This Nov. 10, 1989 file photo shows transplant pioneer Dr. Thomas E. Starzl as he oversees a liver transplant operation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A memorial service for Dr. Thomas Starzl, who pioneered liver transplant surgery in the 1960s, has been set for what would have been his 91st birthday.

A spokesman for the University of Pittsburgh says the service will be held at Saturday, March 11,  at 1 p.m. at Heinz Chapel Memorial Chapel on campus. Starzl was a distinguished service professor of surgery at the university.

He died over the weekend at his home in Pittsburgh.

Starzl performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963 and the world’s first successful liver transplant in 1967. He pioneered kidney transplantation from cadavers, and was a leading researcher of anti-rejection drugs.

Since Starzl’s first successful liver transplant, thousands of lives have been saved by similar operations.

“We regard him as the father of transplantation,” said Dr. Abhinav Humar, clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. “His legacy in transplantation is hard to put into words _ it’s really immense.”

Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1981 as professor of surgery, where his studies on the anti-rejection drug cyclosporin transformed transplantation from an experimental procedure into one that gave patients a hope they could survive an otherwise fatal organ failure.

It was Starzl’s development of cyclosporin in combination with steroids that offered a solution to organ rejection.

Until 1991, Starzl served as chief of transplant services at UPMC, then was named director of the University of Pittsburgh Transplantation Institute, where he continued research on a process he called chimerism, based on a 1992 paper he wrote on the theory that new organs and old bodies “learn” to co-exist without immunosupression drugs.

The institute was renamed in Starzl’s honor in 1996, and he continued as its director.

In his 1992 autobiography, “The Puzzle People: Memoirs of a Transplant Surgeon,” Starzl said he actually hated performing surgery and was sickened with fear each time he prepared for an operation.

“I was striving for liberation my whole life,” he said in an interview.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald called Starzl “a true Pittsburgh icon and hero,” whose research had worldwide impact.

“The number of lives which were, and continue to be transformed, by Dr. Starzl’s groundbreaking work are immeasurable,” he said.

Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said Starzl “laid the foundation for the University of Pittsburgh’s continued leadership in biomedical research and transplant surgery, and we are forever grateful for his legacy.”

Starzl was born March 11, 1926, in LeMars, Iowa. His mother was a nurse and his father was a science fiction writer and the publisher of the local newspaper. Starzl’s uncle, the late Frank Starzel, was general manager of The Associated Press from 1948 to 1962.

Starzl is survived by his wife of 36 years, Joy Starzl, his son, Timothy, and a grandchild.

 

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