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Hartford Hospital Transplant Program Marks 50th Year

April 26, 2021

The Hartford Hospital Transplant Program recently marked 50 years of saving lifes in a ceremony attended by physicians, team members, organ donors, recipients and family members. The gathering recognized the program’s nearly 3,800 transplants while noting the vision and compassion of the program’s founders and at the same time, honoring the profound contribution of donors.

“We continue to build on the successes of the last 50 years to support the community, our patients and their families,” said Hartford Hospital President Bimal Patel. “We are absolutely grateful for our donors, both living and the families who respected the wishes of their loved ones during a very difficult time. What a pinnacle of humanity and compassion.”

Hartford HealthCare President and CEO Jeff Flaks reflected on the longstanding tradition of raising the Donate Life flag, which happens when an organ donation is being made at the hospital. The hospital performs kidney, liver and heart transplants.

“It’s one of the most extraordinary moments to witness,” he said. “If you can imagine that in this hospital, in that moment, somebody’s life is being extended and at the same time, the ultimate act of generosity and humanity is being given as somebody is making that donation.”

In attendance was Dr. Robert Schweitzer, who, with Dr. Stanley Bartus, established the renal transplantation program at Hartford Hospital in 1971.

“We got off to a very good start because the donor and recipient were a perfect match so we didn’t have a problem with rejection, which back then was a big problem,” he said of the first kidney transplant.

Leaders in the program shared their insights on the great strides that have been made over the last 50 years, even during the past year.

“In 2020, we had the privilege of performing 28 heart transplants for patients in Hartford Hospital, a record for our institution,” said Dr. Ayyaz Ali, Surgical Director of the Heart Transplant Program. “We performed these transplants during the challenges of the pandemic, which I think shows the commitment to organ transplant. Thank you to our patients and families for trusting us.”

The event was attended by several organ recipients who shared their experiences and conveyed a wealth of gratitude to the hospital and the team that cared for them.

Colby Salerno received his heart in 2012 and is now pursuing a career in medicine.

“That’s all thanks to Hartford Hospital and the gift of life I was given,” he said. “In four years, I plan on being an advanced heart failure and transplant physician.”

Another heart recipient, Andrew Jones, chose a career with New England Donor Services, where he interacts with donor families as a hospital relations coordinator. (In photo above, Salerno, left, and Jones reunite at event.)

Dr. Glyn Morgan, Surgical Director of Liver Transplantation, noted how personal every transplant is for the program’s team members:

“It’s about grit, it’s about passion, it’s about the courage of our patients and selflessness of our donors and their families. We celebrate not just the obvious tangible benefits of lives reborn, and of dreams realized, but that the hope and strength we see in the eyes of our patients who receive the gift of life will be rewarded…maybe not today, but someday and that is personal.”