Dr. Levy at his desk holding model of organ
Dr. Gary Levy, former director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at UHN, created Canada’s first multidisciplinary, integrated transplant unit in 1990. (Photo: UHN)

Dr. Gary Levy, former director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at UHN, has been awarded the 2018 Dean's Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Toronto (U of T) for national impact.

The award honours Faculty of Medicine alumni who have demonstrated a lifetime of exceptional professionalism through leadership, teaching, clinical care, administration or public service. Previous awardees include Dr. Bernard Langer, former Head of General Surgery at Toronto General Hospital (TG) and former Chair of the Surgery Department at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Jack Laidlaw, who was a leading endocrinologist and former Director of the Clinical Investigation Unit at TG.

The selection committee of students and alumni agreed that in helping to establish the world's first Multi-Organ Transplant Program, Dr. Levy is "greatly deserving of this award." Dr. Levy is also a Senior Scientist, Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, and a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Immunology and Surgery at U of T.

From transplanting less than a 100 patients a year in its infancy, UHN's Multi-Organ Transplant Program reached a milestone in 2017, completing 639 adult transplants, making it the largest adult transplant program in North America.

"My aim has always been to develop a strong research program and integrate that into clinical practice to help our patients," says Dr. Levy, adding that his teachers at U of T often told him stories about patients dying from liver disease. "That pushed me to try and understand the mechanisms of disease so that we could improve treatment for patients with end stage organ failure.

"I'm proud of the amazing people I have worked with throughout the years, and all the people I have trained. Many of them are now leaders in transplantation the world over."

Canadian first uniting transplant programs

When Dr. Levy founded the Liver Transplant Unit at TG in 1987, there were few blueprints on how to create a multidisciplinary transplant unit or develop teams to share discoveries and best practices to improve care for patents.

In 1990, for the first time in Canada, Dr. Levy united transplant programs in kidney, heart, liver and lung within the hospital, and partnered with four teaching hospitals, including Toronto Western, St. Michael's and SickKids.

This type of innovative thinking in sharing knowledge amongst diverse sites and medical, surgical, laboratory specialists, researchers, nurses, respiratory and occupational therapists, bioethicists, social workers and psychiatrists, was unprecedented.

No longer was a patient a "kidney" or 'heart." Instead patients were cared for as multi-faceted individuals with diverse needs, concerns and medical challenges throughout, and even beyond their transplants.

This approach is now recognized and modeled world-wide for its quality patient care and excellent outcomes, and is the gold standard in educating the next generation of clinicians.

As the Multi-Organ Transplant Program's second Medical Director, Dr. Levy built a powerhouse of researchers, examining everything from organ rejection to the ethics of accepting anonymous living donors into the program – with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Networks of Centres of Excellence in Canada in Stem Cell Therapy.

'A visionary leader'

In his own research and practice, Dr. Levy has made seminal findings in immune mechanisms, established UHN's robust living liver donor program to improve access for patients who need liver transplants, pioneered treatments to reduce or eventually eliminate immunosuppressive medications, and explored the possibility of stem cell therapies. 

In keeping with his focus on collaboration and creating a hub of excellence in Ontario, in 2009, Dr. Levy created the first University of Toronto Transplantation Institute with the U of T and hospital partners (SickKids, Sunnybrook and St. Michael's) where international researchers and students learn about and create interdisciplinary research projects "without borders."  

Dr. Levy is member of the prestigious American Society of Clinical Investigation and has been honoured with many awards, including a Queen's Jubilee medal, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Canadian Society of Transplantation and from the International Liver Transplant Society.

As well as Dr. Levy's many academic and administrative achievements, he continues to play an active role in increasing public awareness about organ donation, and the role each of us can play in helping others who need life-saving organs.

As an example, he has participated in Trillium Gift of Life's youth outreach program, which has so far reached about 6,000 students.  And on at least one occasion, he did Hélène Campbell's (organ donor advocate and lung transplant recipient) signature dancing wave with her in front of national media to ensure that everyone understood the vital importance of organ donation.

"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," says Scott McIntaggart, Senior Vice President UHN, Executive Lead, TG . "I also think of Gary as a mentor, teacher and, most of all, as a respected colleague and friend." 


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