By Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, submitted to the San Antonio Express-News as an opinion piece and published on Jan. 29, 2021.
While 2020 was a difficult year in which COVID-19 claimed the lives of so many, University Transplant Center pushed forward, as generous organ donors allowed us to save lives through the miracle of transplant surgery.
Last year marked a half-century since our program’s first transplant in 1970, when a team led by Dr. J. Bradley Aust performed the surgery that gave two new kidneys to Joan Glicksman Wish, allowing her to live many additional years.
Fifty years later, University Transplant Center, which is located in University Hospital, has reached an extremely important milestone: our 5,000th solid organ transplant.
This would not have been possible without our team’s incredible commitment to our patients and the beautiful partnership between University Health and UT Health San Antonio that defines our program.
University Health has provided the resources and leadership support to allow the program to grow and stay on the leading edge of innovation. UT Health San Antonio has allowed our faculty to succeed academically, and make scientific and scholarly contributions to our profession.
Importantly, the 5,000th lifesaving transplant would not have been possible without our predecessors who laid the foundation for our future and our many generous supporters who enable our sustainable success.
It’s only fitting that we acknowledge some of the many milestones for South Texas that we’ve reached along the way. The late 1980s featured the program’s first heart-double lung transplant, first pediatric kidney transplant and first pediatric heart transplant, as well as the first lung transplant in the world to treat pulmonary hypertension.
In the 1990s, innovation continued with the program’s first adult liver transplant, the first civilian split-liver transplant in South Texas and the program’s first pediatric liver transplant. In 1999, we performed the first laparoscopic kidney donor surgery in San Antonio and the first adult-to-adult living donor liver transplant.
Fast forward to 2019: University Transplant Center was the first in the nation to perform a living donor liver exchange in which two donors were matched with recipients other than their intended loved ones, enabling more lives to be saved.
Our success has enabled us to recruit some of the best surgeons and physicians in the United States and made us the second-largest living donor liver transplant program in the nation. Every day they pave the way for patients to have successful transplant outcomes.
In 2020, we again reached new highs despite the COVID-19 pandemic that put many things on hold. An all-woman surgical team, something unthinkable 50 years ago and still uncommon today, performed our 5,000th solid organ transplant. They transplanted a mother’s kidney into her 14-year old son whose own kidneys were failing.
This accomplishment represents our center’s commitment to diversity in both gender and ethnicity, among physicians and staff. Women serve as our top program leaders, and faculty and staff represent the many cultures present in our community.
I am so very proud that we continue to set an example for culturally competent health care. Our patients come from many backgrounds. There is a sense of trust that comes from being cared for by health care professionals with whom they share values and experiences. We know patient outcomes are better when everyone is at the table.
As we embark upon 2021, I am grateful to the many donors who make organ transplantation possible, and to our brave patients who entrust us with their lives and futures. The next 50 years will be even more exciting as we embrace innovation, continue to attract the best and the brightest, and commit ourselves to serving the many donors and patients who entrust us with their survival.
Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa is director of the University Transplant Center and occupies the Carlos and Malú Alvarez Distinguished University Chair in Pediatric Transplant Surgery at UT Health San Antonio.