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We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague Nazih Zuhdi, M.D. to call him a pioneer of cardiovascular surgery would be an understatement.

In Memory of Nazih Zuhdi, M.D.

1925-2017


We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague Nazih Zuhdi, M.D. to call him a pioneer of cardiovascular surgery would be an understatement. Dr. Zuhdi was one of the original five scientists and heart surgeons in the 1950s credited for revolutionizing the treatment of heart disease and paving the way for modern medicine and heart care as we know it. He will always be remembered for the many medical firsts he performed at Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma.

We extend our sincerest condolences to his family, friends and the countless many who have benefitted from his brilliance. Dr. Zuhdi was 91 years old. 

The Life and Legacy of Nazih Zuhdi

Nazih Zuhdi, M.D.Nazih Zuhdi was born in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 19, 1925. He earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from the American University of Beirut in 1950, before immigrating to the United States in 1951.

He completed his surgical internship at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. From 1952 to 1956, he continued his medical training through a fellowship at the State University of New York – Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, where he became fascinated with heart-lung machines and the concept of using mechanical assist devices for a failing heart.

Zuhdi’s research significantly contributed to the creation of the heart-lung machine used in our nation’s first successful open-heart surgery in 1953. The medical landscape would never be the same as replicas and modified versions of the machine became commonplace.

Zuhdi attended the University of Minnesota and continued to study under some of the greatest minds of medicine - until he eventually became one himself. In 1957, Zuhdi was recruited to Oklahoma. It is here, that he would live his life and leave his legacy.

In 1959, with Drs. Allen Greer and John Carey, Zuhdi performed the first heart bypass operation in Oklahoma and installed our state’s first pacemaker. Soon after, he started his career at Baptist Medical Center. He performed the first open-heart surgery at the new hospital in 1963.

Dr. Zuhdi officially retired in 1999 and the Oklahoma Transplant Institute was renamed in his honor. The INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute is still one of only 60 lung transplant facilities in the world. It is recognized as one of the leading transplantation institutions in the United States and remains the only comprehensive transplant center in Oklahoma. The institute is dedicated to remembering his legacy and furthering his vision, and will proudly bear his name for generations to come.

Also in the ‘60s, Zuhdi developed what he called Total Intentional Hemodilution (TIH), the priming of a heart-lung machine without blood. This discovery would change the future of medical treatment for the human heart – and eventually all other organs. Open-heart surgery became possible on a scale never before imagined. Hemodilution was the new standard procedure in hospitals around the globe. In fact, the technique was used by Christian Barnard, M.D., in the world’s first human heart transplant in 1967.

Zuhdi’s ideas and development of new machines and methods to treat the human heart continued to earn worldwide recognition. In 1970, Zuhdi implanted a human patient with the aortic valve from a pig. It was the first such procedure performed in North America.

In 1984, Zuhdi created the Oklahoma Transplant Institute as a venue for organ transplantation. His vision was to create one comprehensive transplant center, specializing in heart, kidney, lung, liver, pancreas and small bowel transplants. It would be the first facility in the world to develop such a program. In 1985, Zuhdi performed the state’s first human to human heart transplant and the first such procedure in the nation in a hospital not associated with a medical school. There were only a dozen hospitals in the U.S. that had performed a heart transplant at the time. Also, that year, Zuhdi performed a piggyback/tandem heart transplant, the first in Oklahoma and only the sixth in the country.

In 1987, Zuhdi and Dimitri Novitsky, M.D., performed Oklahoma’s first human heart-lung transplant and Zuhdi implanted the state’s first left ventricular assist device. The next year, he implanted both a left and right ventricular assist device in a single patient – another state first.

In 1990, Zuhdi performed the state’s first single-lung transplant, and in 1994 he performed Oklahoma’s first double-lung transplant.

While he didn’t actually perform the following surgeries, Zuhdi is credited for laying the ground work for other Oklahoma firsts to take place at Baptist Medical Center including our state’s first adult and pediatric liver transplants, many combined organ transplants and the implantation of various heart pump technologies.

In 1998, Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating signed a bill into law that provided for organs donated in Oklahoma to first be offered to Oklahoma patients needing transplants. Zuhdi was a strong supporter of the legislation and helped develop the Oklahoma Organ Sharing Network. Governors Keating and Brad Henry later bestowed on Zuhdi a proclamation and commendation acknowledging his many medical contributions.

His is the only medical research conducted within the boundaries of Oklahoma that is recognized in World’s Who’s Who in Science: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Scientists from Antiquity to the Present. Zuhdi is also a celebrated member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.