In Spite of Anxiety about Fatal Mistakes, Starzl Persevered

(p. A10) As he completed his medical training in the late 1950s, Thomas Starzl searched for a way to make his name in the annals of medicine. In an interview late in his life, he recalled asking himself: “What’s out there that needs development but looks impossible?”
The choice seemed obvious to him: transplanting organs.
He became the first surgeon to transplant a human liver successfully in 1967 and went on to do hundreds more, in dicey operations that could last as long as 20 hours. Tall, lean and cerebral, he pioneered drug therapies to fight the body’s rejection of foreign tissue. Though less famous than Christiaan Barnard, who in 1967 was the first to transplant a heart, Dr. Starzl was often called the “father of transplantation.”
. . .
In Miami, crime furnished more than enough gunshot wounds to train a young surgeon. He learned the arts of replacing blood vessels. In his spare time, he experimented on dogs, devised a technique for removing livers and began thinking about how to “install” new ones.
As his surgical skills improved, his anxieties about making potentially fatal mistakes worsened. “With growing concern, I came to believe that I was not emotionally equipped to be a surgeon or to deal with its brutality,” he wrote. “I did not like doing the one thing for which I had become uniquely qualified.” He also felt it was too late to turn back.

For the full obituary, see:
James R. Hagerty. “‘Father of Transplantation’ Defeated His Own Doubts.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 18, 2017): A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 17, 2017, and has the title “‘Father of Transplantation’ Defeated His Own Doubts and Fears.”)

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