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Dr. Thomas Starzl operating, 1991

Courtesy of UPMC/University of Pittsburgh

The Father of Organ Transplantation

Dr. Thomas Starzl was a brilliant researcher, an inspired innovator, a talented teacher, and a great surgeon.

Born in Le Mars, Iowa on March 11, 1926, he was compelled to become a doctor by his mother’s death from breast cancer. In 1952 he graduated from Northwestern with an MD and a PhD in neuroscience. He continued his surgical training at Johns Hopkins and then the University of Miami. He returned to Northwestern in 1958, where he began to focus on transplantation. He initially worked on dogs, and within a year “was confident that this operation was not only feasible, but could someday be applied for the treatment of human disease.” more


“When I finished medical school in 1952, the textbooks were full of diseases, the causes of which were not known. So I had a dream list: I wanted to know the cause and find the cure for one disease.”

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Dr. Starzl stealing a few minutes of sleep in the back of an ambulance, part of a 30+ hour day, 1985

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/John Kaplan, photographer 

Thomas Starzl, 2016


"Burden of Genius is a very close look at the ground breaking work that surgeons like Dr. Starzl make for organ recipients like me who had no other option. Without the skill of doctors inspired by Dr. Starzl I would not be here to write these words. A must-see for every potential organ donor and all organ recipients."

Paul Munafo, 2021

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