When Thomas Starzl began his career as a surgeon in the 1950s, the prospect of transplanting human organs was the stuff of science fiction. But Dr. Starzl believed it was possible, and focused his research efforts on a notoriously difficult organ, the human liver.
A brilliant surgeon with a Master's in anatomy and a Ph.D. in neurophysiology as well as his medical degree, Dr. Starzl performed nearly 1,000 major operations a year as a young resident, developing operating room skills that would lead his colleagues to describe him as "a surgical Superman." In 1962, he mastered the human kidney transplant, and in 1967 performed the first successful human liver transplant.
His pioneering work with the drug cyclosporine brought transplant surgery from the realm of experimental procedures into an accepted form of treatment for end-stage liver, kidney and heart disease, and made possible the transplantation of organs such as the pancreas and the lung.
In addition to the thousands of patients whose lives Thomas Starzl has saved in the operating room, countless others owe their survival to his pioneering research and the legion of transplant surgeons he has trained.