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To date, Dr. Gary Levy’s celebrated career spans more than 35 years. He has earned an international reputation as a hepatologist, researcher and administrator. In September, Dr. Levy is stepping down as the Director, Multi Organ Transplant Program at Toronto General Hospital, but chances are he will not slow down. He will continue to lead the Living Donor Liver Program at Toronto General Hospital and dedicate more time to his research and his family.
Mention the name Dr. Gary Levy and you’ll hear a variety of complimentary and colourful comments.
“He wants to do the best by his patients and improve their lives.”
“He’s a mad scientist.”
“When he started liver transplants, they were barely achievable; today, they are almost routine.”
“He doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“He borders on crazy in terms of his passion and commitment to transplantation.”
The words fearless leader, passionate, tenacious and innovative also abound when people talk about him.
No matter how described, Dr. Levy – who established and nurtured the Multi-Organ Transplant (MOT) Program at Toronto General Hospital for more than 20 years is a man with energy, vision and the chutzpah that made his vision a reality.
Talk to him and he will attribute the program’s success to the support he received from the University Health Network to pursue his vision and to his ability to recruit intelligent and capable people.
Dr. Levy’s journey with Toronto General Hospital began in the mid-80s when he founded the Liver Transplant Unit.
As Dr. Levy recalls, “That lasted about a week. People asked, ‘Why not a Multi-Organ Transplant unit?’ ”
And so it was; he soon expanded the program bringing together kidney, heart, lung and liver transplant, which had been developing independently at Toronto General, Toronto Western, SickKids and St. Michael’s Hospitals.
You can hear the passion in his voice when he explains, “I was very focused and believed that the path forward for transplantation was to bring together the people – medical, surgical, lab, medicine and researchers with a strong academic base.”
“The program needed structure to grow. People like Alan Hudson, the CEO at the time, and others empowered me to recruit the most intelligent and capable people to work in the program. I also had to convince other hospitals to move transplant programs to MOT,” he adds.
Dr. Levy is all about innovation and forward thinking. You can hear impatience in his voice when he explains, “We needed to think bigger.”
With his persistence and belief in a multidisciplinary approach, Dr. Levy built a transplant centre of the highest clinical and academic quality for patient care, research and education in the field of immunology, pathology and transplantation.
With Gary Levy at the helm, the MOT Program has emerged as an internationally-renowned centre of clinical and academic excellence. Dr. Levy played a transformative role in growing the program into Canada’s first and the world’s foremost Multi-Organ Transplant Program.
Perhaps a bit sheepishly, Dr. Levy readily admits, “There may have been things I should not have been doing.”
“Working with unbelievably talented and some of the brightest people in the world has been gratifying. We have been able to save lives and make an impact on the misery that people suffered and on the families who are devastated,” he says.
“I love to train young minds and have had the opportunity to train world leaders in transplantation and transplant surgery,” he adds.
The role has not been without professional and personal challenges. He has had to juggle many things ... see patients, be an administrator, do research and find time for his family.
“This is a 24/7 job,” he says, and jokes that Karen, his wife of 43 years, hasn’t divorced him yet and his kids still talk to him.
He is emphatic when he says, “One could argue that there could have been professional road blocks, but when I believe in something strongly, I don’t back down.”
Dr. Levy will be dedicating more time to his research in what he calls the Holy Grail – immunosuppression-free transplantation – that is, eliminating organ recipients’ need for anti-rejection drugs.
Dr. Atul Humar, former head of transplant infectious disease at Toronto General, assumes the Director, MOT role in September and Dr. Levy will be there to ensure a smooth transition.
When asked if he has advice for the new Director, Dr. Levy advises, “I’d tell him, work with the talent you have and engage all the members of the program.” He adds that Dr. Atul Humar is a bright person and a visionary – and Dr. Levy knows a lot about having a vision.
A few of Dr. Levy’s colleagues contributed the comments below.
“The outstanding success of our transplant Program is due, in large part, to Gary's vision, creativity and drive. All of us who work in the Program, and our patients, are indebted to him for much of what we have achieved.” --- Dr. Ed Cole, Physician-in-Chief, University Health Network
“Gary has pioneered the use of living donor transplants in liver disease. With his leadership, UHN has one of the largest living donor liver transplant programs in the world.” – Dr. Bob Bell, President and Chief Executive Officer, University Health Network
“Working with Gary has been like riding a roller coaster in the dark. You never know when your next turn will be, but the end result is pure exhilaration!” -- Charmaine Beal, Dr. Levy’s administrative assistant for more than 25 years
”When I think of Gary I think of a brilliant accomplished physician who has spent his career building and contributing to the science of transplantation and a visionary leader who has worked tirelessly. I also think of Gary as a mentor, teacher and most of all as a respected colleague and friend.”-- Scott McIntaggart – Senior Vice President UHN, Executive Lead, TGH