What’s In a Name?

Transplant recipient, surgeon bonded together by influential physician

In the early 1930’s, William A. Altemeier turned down an offer to play professional baseball for the St. Louis Browns in order to continue his medical studies.

Over the next five decades, he would become one of the most influential and respected surgeons in American academic surgery, leading the University of Cincinnati (UC) Department of Surgery for 26 years and conducting groundbreaking research into surgical procedures and infection.

Altemeier’s decision to choose medicine over baseball saved countless lives—including, eventually, that of his own grandson, Herbert Altemeier.

Herb Altemeier

As a young man, Herbert was anxious to enlist in the armed forces, but medical tests during his high school years at a military academy revealed a startling surprise.

“I had a high protein count,” he said. “That test led to another and, of course, eventually changed my career path.” Herbert was diagnosed with a congenitally absent left kidney and was not permitted to enlist in the military.

Years passed and Herbert married his wife, Therese, in 1995. The two created a life together in Springboro, Ohio, with Herbert holding a variety of escalating sales and leadership positions in organizations where he could coach and influence. While life with one kidney was the only life he knew, it was a very, very good life.

Then, just months before his 50th birthday, Herbert began having trouble sleeping, experiencing violent spells of sickness and had trouble staying focused in the evenings. He rationalized the symptoms and exhaustion as side effects of an active life, enjoying frequent adventures with his wife.

When he finally visited his doctor, Herbert was surprised to hear the physician say that it was time to get on the list. The transplant list. He would need a new kidney.

After consulting with his wife, one of Herbert’s next conversations was with his dear friend, and best man at his wedding, Dan Wood. Herbert nervously delivered the message, “I’m going to need a kidney transplant.”

Herbert recalls that his long-time friend didn’t skip a beat: “Well I’ll give you my kidney,” Wood said. “You don’t have anything to worry about.”

Herbert went on to say there would be a test to find a match. Once again, Wood volunteered: “If I had three kidneys, I’d give ‘em to you.”

Turns out, one would do. Wood was a match and would be Herbert’s donor.

On Aug. 14, 2017, Herbert received a kidney at UC Medical Center. As another gift of fate, his surgeon would be renowned transplantation specialist E. Steve Woodle, MD, professor of surgery at UC and UC Health director of solid organ transplantation.

“I recognized his last name right away,” Woodle said.

That’s because Woodle is only the second surgeon at the university to hold the prestigious William A. Altemeier Endowed Chair, a position created in honor of Herbert’s grandfather, William A. Altemeier, MD, long-time Christian R. Holmes Professor of Surgery and chairman of the UC Department of Surgery from 1952 to 1978. Altemeier was a true pioneer in the advancement of surgery and surgical education, but to Herbert, he was simply known as “Grandpa.”

“I never had the honor of meeting William Altemeier, though his clinical practice and teaching continue to influence the next generation of surgeons, even today,” said Woodle. “It was an honor to be able to care for his grandson.”

Herbert’s stay at UC Medical Center would only be three days—Wood’s two. When asked to reflect on their experiences, Herbert and his wife offered similar thoughts: “The staff—our nurses Sam, Diane, Melissa, Karla—were calm, yet confident,” Herbert said. “Sam shared her own experiences—she went out of her way to relate.”

Now We Join in Celebration

As we celebrate 50 years of providing excellence in transplantation, breakthrough treatments and compassionate coordination of care to the region, we invite you to join us in a 50-day countdown to the anniversary of the first surgery that launched Cincinnati’s most comprehensive transplant program.

Celebrate with us by sharing our stories of transplantation with your social media network using #UCHealthTransplant via FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

For more information about UC Health transplant services, please visit uchealth.com/transplant.