Dr. Eugene Dong - Heart Transplant Doctor/Professor, Lawyer - Hartnell College
Had Eugene Dong not gotten through his first semester at Hartnell College perhaps the first human heart transplant would not have happened, or at least been delayed many years.
Dr. Eugene Dong, was a brilliant teenager and attended Hartnell at age 16. But that first semester away from home and in a "sink or swim" environment almost drowned the future scientist and lawyer.
"I hardly got through my first semester and almost flunked out," said Dong, now retired and living in Palo Alto. "I was too used to being the brightest guy in my high school and didn't apply myself. But with some help of my professors at Hartnell I got the hang of it by my second semester. I grew up fast and found my focus."
Dong graduated from Hartnell College with an associate degree and transferred to the University of California, Berkeley. He graduated with a physiology degree and graduated from the University of California, San Francisco medical school in 1959. After a year-long internship at New York City's famed Bellevue Hospital performing heart catheterization studies, Dong returned to the Bay Area to begin working at the Stanford medical school under Dr. Norman Shumway. Shumway was preparing to perform the first human heart transplant two years after completing the first-ever heart transplant in a dog. Dr. Christiaan Barnard of South Africa beat the Shumway team for the first human heart transplant in 1967, but used data and methods developed by Shumway and Dong.
Shumway performed the first successful human heart transplant in the United States in 1968 at Stanford. The recipient, 54-year-old steel worker named Mike Kasperak, lived for 14 days after the heart of a 43-year-old man was transplanted into his chest. While Dong did not participate in the operating room, he was tasked with keeping Kasperak alive as long as possible with anti-rejection drugs and heart therapies.
"I was primarily the post-operative research lead and Kasperak died of multiple organ failure, not just his heart," Dong recalled. "In 1970, I became the principal investigator for human transplant research at Stanford and we pioneered many techniques and drug therapies to reduce rejection of organs. We knew it could be done. But if we improved our selection process and got the right patients, it would solve a lot of the rejection issues."
Dong later taught at the Stanford Medical School and graduated in 1981 with a law degree from Santa Clara University. At the time, a person with an M.D. and a J.D. was rare and, in a bit of irony, Dong sued the University of Utah and the University of California, San Diego over falsified data used by a research doctor in securing National Institute of Health grants.
"I'm responsible for applying the ‘False Claims Act' successfully for the first time," Dong said. "I'm proud of that."
Dong retired from Stanford in 1998 and operated a consulting law firm until 2008. He still maintains his medical and law licenses.
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