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Transplant Greats: Talking with Sharon Hunt

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Manreet Kanwar, MD
Allegheny General Hospital
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

At the Junior Faculty and Trainee Council meeting, we decided to introduce a series of features on the legends in the field of heart and lung transplantation to try and catch a glimpse into the lives of these inspiring individuals and to get to know them beyond their bibliography. This is our inaugural feature.

Transplant Greats - Talking with Sharon Hunt

As an ISHLT 2012 Lifetime Achievement Awardee (a title amongst numerous others bestowed upon her over the years), Sharon needs no introduction to the readers of the ISHLT Links Newsletter. Born and brought up near Cleveland, Ohio, to an engineer father and a homemaker mother, she recognized science as an early passion. In her early years at an all-girls catholic school, she developed a 'healthy distaste for nuns', but distinctly remembers a certain charismatic nun—her biology teacher. She fostered in Sharon a keen interest in botany and spurred her on to study photosynthesis and plant physiology as an undergraduate at The University of Dayton in Ohio. And then she discovered something 'so much more exciting than photosynthesis'—the Department of Artificial Organs at the Cleveland Clinic. Under the tutelage of Dr. William Kolff and Dr. Irvin Page, Sharon was introduced to the life of medicine and there has been no looking back.

links imageSharon was featured on the front page of the Spring-Summer 1968 edition of Stanford MD (the Stanford Medical Alumni Association)—the first year Stanford Medical School had more than one woman student in every class. Also featured in that same issue was the first adult heart transplant performed in the US by Norman Shumway marking a major cardiac transplant milestone. These two featured articles brought forth the conception of our matriarch in heart transplantation.

The following year, more than 100 transplants were performed, with an abysmal survival of less than 30%. The surgery was almost abandoned as a viable option but for the efforts of Norman Shumway and his team. Around this time, he enrolled Sharon's help with the post-transplant care of his patients and their academic partnership bore path-breaking results that redefined the science of heart transplantation. She fondly remembers him as a dynamic personality with a righteous sense of humor who never hesitated in narrating a 'dirty joke' if it fit the occasion. Shortly following the initial success of surgeries, Life magazine featured an article on how patients 'went crazy' post-transplant and questioned the viability of this procedure. It did not take Sharon long to figure out that these patients were having their vital signs checked every hour, effectively denying them any sleep! They changed their nursing patterns allowing for patients to get sufficient rest, and the issue all but resolved completely.

So what keeps Sharon going? In her own words, "practicing transplant cardiology keeps me honest and it definitely never gets boring." Between her outstanding academic and clinical career, she has learned the fine art of managing a four acre farm in Santa Cruz, although she is still trying to figure out how to keep the deer at bay! In addition to being the quintessential role model for every transplant cardiologist, she is a devoted mother, an equestrienne, adventurer and traveler, and a Dr. House fan. She strongly encourages female cardiology fellows to consider transplant cardiology as a career choice and firmly believes that it does not discriminate against women but does against men or vice versa.

Her advice to young faculty? Learn when and how to say no and make wise choices to suit the quality of life you want for yourself.

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to report.

Dr Hunt was the 2012 recipient of the ISHLT Lifetime Achievement Award. Read more about this at http://www.ishlt.org/ContentDocuments/2012MayLinks_Lifetime.html.

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