Stanford marks 50 years since first U.S. adult heart transplant performed there

STANFORD, Calif. (KGO) -- Fifty years ago transplanting a human heart was described as revolutionary and groundbreaking. On Saturday, Stanford Hospital celebrates the 50th anniversary of being the first medical institution in the United States to perform the operation on an adult.

At 60 years old, Scott Rubin is relishing each moment he has with his family. When he was just 28 years old, Rubin was suffering from heart failure and was preparing to die and leave behind his wife and twin baby boys. But Rubin was told heart transplant at Stanford was his best hope.

"He said the average survival rate is five years and it's 50 percent -- and to me I thought that will at least get me through the kids kindergarten graduation," said Rubin.

It lasted more than expected through his sons' high school graduation. Stanford Hospital is celebrating how far it's come.

Fifty years ago, it became the first in the U.S. to do a heart transplant on an adult. Dr. Norman Shumway developed the standard surgical technique for it and performed the operation.

"Clearly it was groundbreaking, it was very exciting the whole place was abuzz with the news of it," said Dr. Sharon Hunt, Stanford's Medical Director of the Post Heart Transplant Program.

Hunt remembers members of the press climbing the outside of the hospital to try to get pictures inside the hospital room. During those early years, transplant patients didn't live long usually a month.

Stanford now does between 50 and 70 heart transplants a year and is responsible for numerous advances in the field. Shumway and his team refined the operation tackling problems such as the body rejecting a transplanted heart. Stanford also did research that led to medical teams being able to travel with a donor heart. Dr. Hunt says there's a lot on the horizon including genetically modifying an animal to use its heart for human transplant.

"The animal seemed most favored is the pig, It's about the right size of the average adult human and there's no ethical issue since we all eat pork," said Hunt.

That gives Mike, Rubin's son, hope. He inherited the heart condition from his father and is on the transplant list.

"I feel optimistic about the advances everything with medicine takes a long time," said Rubin.

Doctors say a permanent mechanical heart may also be a viable option in the future.

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