How The Busiest Heart Transplant Center In The World Got Its Start – An Inside Story Of The First Decade (Forbes)

FORBES | The Vanderbilt Transplant Center is currently the busiest heart transplant center in the world. This is the story of building the foundation for what the Center has become today — a narrative of the initial decade of the 34 years since the founding of this first-of-its-kind, multidisciplinary, multi-organ transplant center. Over 12,300 adult and pediatric transplants have been performed at Vanderbilt. Not only does Vanderbilt perform more heart transplants annually than any other center, but it is where the longest surviving lung transplant patient was transplanted over three decades ago.

It started with a phone call.

In 1985 I was a Fellow in transplant surgery at Stanford University Medical School, operating under the tutelage of Dr. Norman Shumway. Shumway is considered the “Father of Heart Transplantation,” a title fitting for my mentor who was a research-grounded, scientist-surgeon. For more than two decades prior to my arrival at Stanford, Shumway had systematically conducted basic science and pre-clinical transplant research that culminated in his performing the first human heart transplant in the United States on January 6, 1968 (Dr. Christiaan Barnard, using techniques and knowledge that Shumway had developed over decades, performed the first human-to-human heart transplant in South Africa a month before.).

It was while completing my fellowship program under Shumway that late one evening my phone rang. On the other end of line was Dr. Harvey Bender, Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Vanderbilt: “Bill,” he said, “Ike Robinson (then Vanderbilt’s Vice-Chancellor) and I would like for you to come back home to Nashville to join Walter (Merrill, MD) to start and build a heart transplant program.”

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