Press Release

UC Health Transplant Program Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Dec. 11, 2017

CINCINNATI - On Dec. 11, 1967, Ernest P. Harper, 36, made local history when he received the first kidney transplant at UC Medical Center.

Organ transplantation was still an experimental procedure in the 1960s, but Mr. Harper lived a long and happy life for more than 30 years thanks to the skilled care he received from J. Wesley Alexander, MD, who pioneered transplantation in our region.

Fifty years later, UC Health and the UC College of Medicine continue to break new ground in transplant clinical practice, research and education as the region’s only comprehensive transplant program.

Since that day, the UC Department of Surgery has been a national leader in solid organ transplantation, which brings amazing opportunities to people suffering from the most complex and critical conditions,” said Richard P. Lofgren, MD, president & CEO of UC Health. “As the region’s academic health system, it is our responsibility to provide life-saving, destination programs like transplantation.”

Today, the UC Health transplant program provides kidney, heart, liver and pancreas transplants, as well as hepatobiliary surgery. The program has earned a national reputation for its clinical outcomes; influential academic research, especially in the area of anti-rejection medication; and innovative programs and techniques. It has also provided new hope and longer, happier lives to thousands of organ recipients.

“For five decades, the UC College of Medicine and its constituent departments have supported and recruited exceptional physicians and scientists to our transplant programs. These talented individuals have provided the driving forces for excellence in patient care and importantly, innovative research that has brought international recognition to the university and UC Health. The College of Medicine remains committed to its robust partnership with UC Health in building and supporting our solid organ transplant programs,” said William S. Ball, MD, senior vice president for health affairs, Christian R. Holmes Professor and Dean of the UC College of Medicine.

The kidney transplant program is nationally known for its work in paired kidney exchange, living kidney donation, and anti-rejection medication. The program also marked a significant milestone on Dec. 4, 2017 when E. Steve Woodle, MD, performed the year’s 100th kidney transplant surgery.

“Our responsibility to the people of Cincinnati and the surrounding region is to provide the lifesaving option of transplantation for those who suffer from renal failure, liver failure, heart failure, and severe diabetes. We pledge as individuals and as the region’s academic health system that we will provide state-of-the-art health care. We will continue to conduct highly impactful, innovative research that changes the lives of transplant patients locally, nationally and internationally,” said Woodle, the William A. Altemeier Chair in Surgery and professor of surgery at UC College of Medicine; director of Solid Organ Transplantation at UC Health; and director of the Israel Penn Center for Transplant Oncology.

The heart transplant program, under the direction of David Feldman, MD, PhD, and Louis B. Louis IV, MD, has performed 15 transplants since February 2016 and is among the top 10 percent of heart transplant programs in the country for survival rates.

Feldman is director of clinical services at the UC Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute; and professor of clinical medicine and director of advanced myocardial and circulatory services in the Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease in the Department of Internal Medicine at UC College of Medicine. Louis is chief of cardiac surgery at UC Health and associate professor of surgery in the Department of Surgery at UC College of Medicine.

And the liver transplant program is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, performing more than 100 liver transplants in each of the past two years. Under the leadership of Shimul Shah, MD, it has also launched a cutting-edge telehealth program to improve post-transplant care.

“It is a very exciting time for transplantation in Cincinnati and at UC Health,” said Shah, the James & Catherine Orr Endowed Chair of Liver Transplantation, professor of surgery, and director of the Division of Transplantation at UC College of Medicine and a UC Health surgeon. “Our transplant programs are vigorous and our patient volumes are reaching all-time highs. Our transplant program personnel are extremely dedicated and bring considerable expertise that our patients benefit from on a daily basis.”

UC Health and the UC College of Medicine celebrated the 50th anniversary with a gala Sunday, Dec. 10, reuniting organ transplant recipients and their providers, as well as UC Health and UC College of Medicine leadership, to celebrate the history and achievements of the program. Hundreds of people attended the event, which was held at the Metropolitan Club in Covington and emceed by WLWT-TV anchor Lisa Cooney, a kidney donor and longtime advocate for organ donation.