Founder of UCLA liver transplant program looks back on 40 years of saving lives

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Dr. Ronald Busuttil remembers the day he performed his first liver transplant at UCLA Health like it was yesterday. It was mid-afternoon and he was at his accountant’s office paying his taxes when he received a phone call informing him that a donor organ was available at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

At the start of liver transplantation, there was a short window to recover an organ and successfully transplant it into a patient. He had to be in Saint-Joseph no later than 6 p.m. Busuttil set off with two of his colleagues for the 17-mile journey. But first, they had an errand to run.

“At that time, liver transplants were very rare, and the way we transported the donor organ was in an Igloo cooler filled with ice,” recalled Busuttil, the founding chief of UCLA’s Liver Transplant Division. and pancreas. “We would procure the organ, profuse it during harvest with a preservative, pack it in ice and bring it back.”

After a quick stop at a nearby convenience store to pick up a cooler and four bags of ice, the team was on its way.

It was February 1, 1984 – the day UCLA Health launched what would become an extremely successful liver transplant program. Today, the hospital system has one of the largest and most prestigious liver transplant centers in the country. As founder and chief surgeon of the program, Busuttil served as director of the Pfleger Liver Institute, which includes the Dumont – UCLA Transplant Center and the Dumont – UCLA Liver Cancer Center.

Over a period of nearly 40 years, Busuttil and his team have performed approximately 8,000 liver transplants, including more than 1,000 on children. Under his leadership, UCLA Health also ran liver transplant programs at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the late 1990s and at UC Irvine.

Busuttil will be honored by his peers for his many contributions to UCLA at the Luskin Conference Center on Friday, July 29.

“It couldn’t have been better for three and a half decades of saving lives,” he said. “We have such a great team that made this possible. It was an incredible time and an incredible career. I couldn’t be happier.

Read Dr. Busuttil’s full profile on UCLA Health’s Connect blog.

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