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Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Performs Its 6,000th Liver Transplant, Sets National Record

Liver transplant recipient Steve McDowell

Posted: Friday, July 29, 2016 – 4:18 PM

This year, patient Steve McDowell received what is arguably the best birthday present ever—a life-saving liver transplant—at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

Not only was the operation an amazing birthday gift, it was a landmark procedure—UCLA performed its 6,000th liver transplant, a national milestone accomplishment based on the United Network of Organ Sharing database and the most of any center in the country.

McDowell was in the end stages of advanced liver disease when he underwent the operation June 30. He had been in and out of the hospital since November, and had been on the list for organ transplant since January.

“I was getting weary, and I was really worried,” McDowell said of the days leading up to the transplant, which was performed by Dr. Ronald W. Busuttil, distinguished professor and executive chairman of the department of surgery at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine  and chief of the division of liver and pancreas transplantation.

“The week before they called me to tell me they had a liver it was touch and go. I was scared I wouldn’t make it,” said McDowell, who was released from the hospital July 11.

McDowell expressed his gratitude to the anonymous organ donor. “I can’t imagine the generosity of someone who would donate their organs. The gratitude I feel is difficult to express. Moving forward, I hope to help people waiting for organs to educate themselves. I still haven’t fully gotten my arms around this yet and how lucky I was that someone offered me the gift of life.”

McDowell’s wife agreed. “This experience has made us realize the life and death magnitude of organ donation and how important it is,” she said.

Busuttil, an internationally renowned surgeon who also serves as the director of the Dumont-UCLA Transplant Center and the Dumont-UCLA Liver Cancer Center, credited a team-based, multidisciplinary approach for the center’s success.

“This landmark 6,000th liver transplant reflects the work of our incredibly dedicated and talented team at UCLA and also underscores the importance of organ donation for the many thousands of patients who await the precious gift of life,” Busuttil said. “I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished together —saving lives.”

The 100-person liver transplant team includes surgeons, physicians, nurses and other professionals. This year, it has performed more than 90 liver transplants. Currently, 421 patients are on the UCLA waiting list for a new liver.

One of the first five in the nation, the UCLA liver transplant program was established in 1984 by Busuttil, who has directed it since its inception. 

At the time of its creation, UCLA’s liver transplant program was the only one west of the Mississippi River. Since its founding the program has benefited patients far beyond the medical center’s walls. The surgical techniques and immunosuppressive therapy regimens developed at UCLA now improve outcomes for patients around the world, and surgeons trained in advanced transplantation techniques now take their skills to patients in other hospitals, states and nations.

“Consider that in the 32 years since its inception, the UCLA Liver Transplant Program has performed roughly one liver transplant every other day,” said Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health and chief executive officer of UCLA Hospital System. “By all measures, that is a remarkable feat.”

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