The Puzzle People: Memoirs Of A Transplant Surgeon

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9780822937142: The Puzzle People: Memoirs Of A Transplant Surgeon
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Given the tensions and demands of medicine, highly successful physicians and surgeons rarely achieve equal success as prose writers.  It is truly extraordinary that a major, international pioneer in the controversial field of transplant surgery should have written a spellbinding, and heart-wrenching, autobiography.

Thomas Starzl grew up in LeMars, Iowa, the son of a newspaper publisher and a nurse.  His father also wrote science fiction and was acquainted with the writer Ray Bradbury.  Starzl left the family business to enter Northwestern University Medical School where he earned both and M.D. and a PhD.  While he was a student, and later during his surgical internship at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, he began the series of animal experiments that led eventually to the world’s first transplantation of the human liver in 1963.

Throughout his career, first at the University of Colorado and then at the University of Pittsburgh, he has aroused both worldwide admiration and controversy.  His technical innovations and medical genius have revolutionized the field, but Starzl has not hesitated to address the moral and ethical issues raised by transplantation.  In this book he clearly states his position on many hotly debated issues including brain death, randomized trials for experimental drugs, the costs of transplant operations, and the system for selecting organ recipients from among scores of desperately ill patients.

There are many heroes in the story of transplantation, and many “puzzle people,” the patients who, as one journalist suggested, might one day be made entirely of various transplanted parts.  They are old and young, obscure and world famous.  Some have been taken into the hearts of America, like Stormie Jones, the brave and beautiful child from Texas.  Every patient who receives someone else’s organ - and Starzl remembers each one - is a puzzle.  “It was not just the acquisition of a new part,” he writes.  “The rest of the body had to change in many ways before the gift could be accepted.  It was necessary for the mind to see the world in a different way.”  The surgeons and physicians who pioneered transplantation were also changed: they too became puzzle people.  “Some were corroded or destroyed by the experience, some were sublimated, and none remained the same.”

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About the Author:

Thomas E. Starzl, a pioneer in human organ transplantation, eloquently recounts the history of this miraculous field, its major players, and the legal and ethical issues that surround it. His medical genius and contributions to the sometimes-controversial procedures have been acknowledged and acclaimed worldwide. This paperback edition features a new epilogue that brings readers up to date on developments in transplant surgery. Now retired from active surgery, Starzl is director of the Transplantation Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An innovative transplant surgeon looks back on a long and brilliant career. Starzl's ``puzzle people'' are not only the patients whose acquisitions of new organs have profoundly altered both their bodies and their minds, but also the physicians whose lives have been changed by participating in the process. Here, the author, who no longer performs surgery but still directs the Transplantation Institute at the Univ. of Pittsburgh, probes- -albeit gingerly--at the puzzle of his own life. He draws a vivid portrait of his father, but other family members remain shadows, and he never lets us very far inside his own psyche. In rapid succession, his wife leaves him, his father and sister die, and his son suffers an emotional breakdown; these events must have been devastating, yet, on the page, Starzl's expression of pain is carefully controlled. And so is his recounting of other significant events--career shifts, professional frustrations and triumphs, a new marriage to an abused black woman, and his own heart surgeries. Throughout, the author seems most intent on setting the record straight, generously crediting those whose work helped shape his own, praising those who carry it on, and excusing those who hampered it. Individual patients are mentioned from time to time, and although Starzl clearly cares about them, he avoids sentimentality in telling their tales. Clearly having thought long and hard about the doctor-patient relationship and the place of expensive technology in our financially troubled health-care system, he voices his concerns about patients' rights and the ethical dilemmas posed by obligatory randomized drug- testing. Not an intimate self-portrait but a well-crafted glimpse into a world of science where politics and personalities often clash. (Twenty b&w photos, ten line drawings--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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