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Stanford surgeons Edward Stinson and Joseph Woo

Symposium celebrates how Stanford led the way to heart surgery success

Fifty years after the first adult heart transplant in the U.S., the event featured doctors who've contributed to the development of heart transplantation.

Last Monday morning, heart transplant patient Linda Karr walked up to the podium in the Berg Hall auditorium on campus looking fit and strong. Inside her chest beat the heart of another woman who had received a new heart and lungs from a deceased donor during a rare "domino" transplant procedure two years ago performed at Stanford by heart surgeon Joseph Woo, MD, and his team.

Woo introduced Karr, his patient, to about 300 health care professionals who had crowded into the auditorium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first adult heart transplant in the United States. That procedure was done at Stanford and led by legendary heart surgeon Norman Shumway, MD, who died in 2006.

The applause was loud and long for Karr, who spoke about how, since her surgery, she's found a new lease on life, hiked to the tops of mountains, kayaked across lakes, and traveled to Switzerland and France. And how she and her heart donor, Tammy Griffin, both survived their surgeries and are now friends.

"I'm grateful to all you do to improve our survival rates," she said. "I'm hopeful for another 20 to 30 years."

The symposium, sponsored by the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, featured a who's who of some of the Stanford players who've contributed to the development of heart transplantation since Shumway began his research in the late 1950s. Speakers included Sharon Hunt, MD, self-described as the "longest-living heart transplant cardiologist;" Ed Stinson, MD, professor emeritus of cardiovascular surgery, who assisted Shumway during that first legendary operation; and Bruce Reitz, MD, the surgeon who performed the country's first heart-lung transplant, also at Stanford.

Of the first heart transplant, Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, said, "It was the kind of pioneering breakthrough that could happen only at Stanford Medicine. Drawn to the most difficult problems, we are known for developing the paradigms that shape the future."

Stinson also took the podium to describe his role during the surgery as Shumway's right-hand man, first dissecting the heart of the donor, then walking it to the room next door where Shumway waited with the patient. He recalled "the almost magical quality of that moment" when he and Shumway paused, looking down into Kasperak's empty chest. Stinson asked Shumway, "Are you sure this is legal?" The older surgeon's answer, slow in coming, was not totally reassuring, Stinson said. "Time will tell," he responded.

Since that first operation, Stanford’s cardiac surgeons have continued to make breakthroughs — taking discoveries from the lab to the operating room and bringing new ideas from the operating room back to the lab, Minor said. A long list of firsts includes the world’s first surgical implantation of a ventricular assist device as a bridge to transplantation, by Philip Oyer, MD, PhD, and the first heart-lung transplant on March 9, 1981.

"We took the heart and lung out. It was amazing," recalled Reitz of the heart-lung procedure. "We had a pretty big cavity, too."

His patient, Mary Gohlke, a 45-year-old Arizona woman dying of primary pulmonary hypertension, received the heart and lungs of a young man who died of head trauma in a bike accident. She became a celebrity of sorts, living for five years until she died following a fall at her home, Reitz told attendees.

"It was the environment provided by Norm and Ed that has made all of this possible," Reitz said.

Photo of Ed Stinson (left) and Joseph Woo by AGS Photo Art

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