Thomas Starzl: “the Father of Modern Transplantation”

Thom StarzlThomas Starzl was known as “the Father of Modern Transplantation”. He performed the world’s first liver transplant in a human in 1963 while at the University of Colorado. In 1980, he moved to the University of Pittsburgh and performed the world’s first heart-liver transplant in 1984.

While Dr. Starzl pioneered the surgical techniques he used in transplantation surgeries, his work on pharmaceuticals for immunosuppression was also groundbreaking. He, along with Dr. John Fung, developed Tacrolimus, one of the most widely used immunosupressant drug in the world. His breakthroughs allowed transplant patients to live longer than ever before.

Dr. Starzl is one of the most cited physicians of all time. He was named one of the most important people of the millenium, ranked 213 out of 1,000 by the Institute for Scientific Information. During his tenure at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Dr. StarzlĀ  transformed it into the busiest transplant center in the world.

I had the privilege to work at Presbyterian University Hospital on the liver transplant unit during Dr. Starzl’s tenure. I worked as a nurse aide while I was in nursing school. I also had the awesome experience of observing parts of his transplant surgeries. He was a busy man. I remember him making rounds, trailed by a group of 10-15 residents, interns, and other trainees. He would visit his patients then stand in the hallway outside their rooms and quiz the group about lab values, outputs, and etc. At least one of the group members would flounder when directly questioned. I always expected an explosion when they couldn’t answer his question, but that never happened. He was a nice man who treated others with respect.

On March 4, 2017, Dr. Thomas Starzl died at the age of 90. He left quite a legacy. For more information, see his obit in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette or his official website at the University of Pittsburgh.




Photo courtesy of Thomas E Starzl, MD Biography — Academy of Achievement. (May 05, 2011). Retrieved April 3, 2017, from