Dr. Thomas Starzl
Dr. Thomas E. Starzl died this past Sunday, one week shy of his 91st birthday. With the possible exception of Dr. Jonas Salk, perhaps no one associated with the City of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh has ever done more to save lives and advance the the greater health and welfare of human beings the world over than has Thomas Starzl and his work to advance the science of human organ transplantation.
I, myself, am personally acquainted with two individuals who are alive and well as a result of organ transplants. They and thousands like them owe their lives, if not directly, then indirectly, to the work of Thomas Starzl. In addition to performing the transplant surgeries themselves, Starzl was instrumental in the development of anti-rejection drugs that have made such surgeries and the long term survival of recipients almost routine.
Starzl retired as an active surgeon in 1991, but his work lives on, not only at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, but in hospitals and in surgeons around the world. Perhaps this final paragraph in an editorial in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says it best:
Nearly 690,000 transplants, about 149,000 of them involving livers, have occurred in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 1988, according to UNOS. It is impossible to say how many of the recipients owed their second chances in one way or another to Dr. Starzl, but the raw numbers wouldn’t do him justice anyway. The truer measure of his impact is the individual stories of recipients who were able to resume normal lives, of parents who saw their dying children reborn through transplantation and of families who donated loved ones’ organs because they realized — in the midst of their own sorrow — that Dr. Starzl’s science would allow others to live on.
In Pittsburgh, we build statues of athletes and politicians, but if anyone deserves a statue in this town, it's Tom Starzl (and Jonas Salk).
And if you have not done so already, the best tribute you can pay to Dr. Starzl is surely the simplest and most selfless thing that you can do: Sign up to be an Organ Donor.
RIP Dr. Thomas E. Starzl.