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As a medical student, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee heard about the success of the world's first lung transplant at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) on the radio in 1983. Three years later, he was scrubbing in for the first double lung transplant, also at TGH, with renowned surgeon, Dr. Joel Cooper.
Lung transplantation has evolved greatly since that time. In the early 1990s, there was a 50/50 chance of survival after a transplant. Today, there is a 97 per cent survival rate.
Many developments in this medical success story can be attributed to the innovations by Keshavjee, Surgeon-in-Chief, Sprott Department of Surgery at University Health Network, and the team of researchers and scientists he leads.
Keshavjee receives highest civilian honour
For his achievements, Keshavjee was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on Dec. 26, 2014. The
Order of Canada, one of our country's highest civilian honours, was established in 1967, during Canada's centennial year, to recognize outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.
"I'm humbled by this recognition," said Keshavjee, who is also a Senior Scientist in the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine; Director of the Latner Thoracic Surgery Research Laboratories; and the James Wallace McCutcheon Chair in Surgery at UHN. "Studying the best outcomes for patients is what I have spent a good part of my life doing. It is important for Canada to recognize the innovations made in thoracic surgery and lung transplants, many of which started at our hospitals. It brings awareness to an amazing miracle and a gift that saves lives."
A pioneer in lung transplantation
In addition to Keshavjee's skills as a cardio-thoracic surgeon, he is a pioneer in developing the latest lung transplantation treatments. The Toronto Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion System, which he developed, allows donor lungs to be kept alive outside of the body, in order to be assessed, treated and repaired before being transplanted into a patient. By enabling the repair of donor lungs that would not otherwise be suitable for transplantation, Keshavjee's discovery is saving more lives. Last year, the number of lung transplants at UHN increased by almost 30 per cent. The technique, now standard care at UHN, is being replicated in other lung transplant centres. Keshavjee estimates that it could potentially more than triple the number of transplants being done around the world.
Just another day on the job: Building 'super' organs
Keshavjee is also using gene and stem cell therapy to further decrease inflammation and injury to the donor lungs before transplantation. Ultimately, Keshavjee hopes to build new "super" organs, which are "like you" and will not require the recipient to take drugs to suppress the immune system in order to decrease the risk of rejection of the new donor lungs.
Keshavjee and his team also developed a technique of lung preservation to preserve donor lungs being transported to transplant patients. This solution has become the standard technique used by transplantation programs around the world.
"I am proud to have contributed to new discoveries that improve patient care and serve as an international model for innovation, education and clinical practice in lung transplantation," he said. We have made things possible that weren't before."
The Toronto Lung Transplant Program is the largest in Canada and the most esteemed program of its kind in the world, performing more than 100 lung transplants a year.
Congratulations to all UHN Order of Canada recipients
Keshavjee is one of several people from the UHN family to be recognized with the Order of Canada for their outstanding contributions in the healthcare field.
Dr. Brenda Gallie was made a Member "for her contributions to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of retinoblastoma, a childhood eye cancer," according to a news release announcing the awards.
Dr. Catherine Zahn, a longtime senior executive at UHN and the current President and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), was recognized as a Member "for her contributions as a neurologist, health care administrator and advocate on behalf of those living with mental health and addiction issues."
Gary Slaight was made a Member for his various philanthropic efforts, including on behalf of the Toronto Rehab Foundation and The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.
James Fleck, a businessman, academic and philanthropist was promoted to a Companion of the Order of Canada for his charity work, including contributions to the Fleck Tanenbaum Chair in Prostatic Diseases, a UHN Chair.
Tim Casgrain, Past Board Chair of the Toronto Rehab Foundation, was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada "for his civic engagement and for his dedication to promoting literacy, culture and sport in Canada."