Newswise — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Dozens of physicians, nurses and transplant patients were on hand to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first transplant in Alabama on May 8 at UAB Hospital.

In 1968, surgeons from the University of Alabama at Birmingham performed the first transplant in the state at the Birmingham VA Hospital. Since then, UAB Medicine has successfully completed more than 14,000 organ transplants. UAB Hospital — one of the busiest transplant centers in the nation — performs more than 400 transplants annually, including heart, lung, kidney, pancreas, liver, small bowel and islet cell transplants, as well as multi-organ procedures.

“Today not only marks a day where we are looking back at the past, but celebrating the future,” said Devin Eckhoff, M.D., director of the Division of Transplantation. “I feel humbled to stand on the shoulders of what Dr. Diethelm did for this division.” 

During the ceremony, Arnold G. Diethelm, M.D., was recognized for the countless lives he impacted and for helping to pave the way for transplantation in the Southeast. Under Diethelm’s leadership, the first kidney transplant at UAB took place in 1968, which was the first transplant of any kind in the state of Alabama. Diethelm also served as chair of the Department of Surgery from 1982 to 1999. 

It was an emotional and uplifting day for Diethelm, who praised the hard work of all who are involved in life-saving transplantation. 

“Who picks up the patient and brings them to the operating room on a stretcher?” asked Diethelm. “Who washes and sterilizes that OR? Surgery requires a large number of people, and those people may be the most important.”

The first heart transplant in the Southeast took place at UAB in 1981, followed by liver transplants in 1983, the first simultaneous pancreas/kidney transplant in 1988, and lung transplants in 1989. 

UAB continues to play an integral part in the longest living donor kidney transplant chain ever recorded, thanks in part to its innovative Living Donor Navigation Program. UAB has also taken a lead role in kidney transplants for HIV-positive patients. And in 2015, UAB became the first medical center in Alabama to transplant the two lobes of a single donor liver into two adult recipients.

For more information, visit the official UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute website, and for more on the 50th anniversary of transplant, visit UAB Medicine.