The Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center is named after one of the transplant program’s most distinguished alumni, Texas philanthropist, oil man and heart transplant recipient, J.C. Walter Jr. Mr. Walter received a heart transplant at Houston Methodist 20 years ago and served on the hospital’s board of directors until his death in 1997.
The Methodist Transplant Center, officially established in 1987, was renamed the Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center in December 2010 in memory of Mr. Walter. His children established an endowment fund to support the hospital’s multi-organ transplant program.
“Our father was an amazing person — a generous leader in the community and a devoted family man,” says Joseph C. Walter III (Rusty), who serves on the Houston Methodist board. “There’s no better way to honor him than to support the very program that gave my father a second chance at life. Transplant medicine has come a long way since then and we hope this gift will further enhance one of the country’s fastest growing transplant programs.”
Transplant medicine has indeed come a long way since we began our tradition of excellence in 1963 when legendary surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey and his team performed the first kidney transplant at Houston Methodist. Five years later, the first heart transplant in Texas, among the first in the country, was performed at Houston Methodist.
During the 1970s, our corneal and kidney transplant programs moved forward, as did research on ventricular assist devices (VAD) and the artificial heart. By the early 1980s, better understanding of the immune system, advances in detecting rejection and the introduction of the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine provided the momentum needed to revive heart and other non-kidney organ transplant programs.
This new era demanded a new approach to organ transplantation; a faculty and administrative committee at Houston Methodist recommended the creation of a transplant center for all organs. The goal was to integrate existing areas of experience and expertise into a cohesive group that could successfully practice transplant medicine and surgery in an efficient, cost-effective manner without disrupting existing departmental and sectional lines.
Today, we credit our success to a multidisciplinary and integrative approach to treatment, worldwide medical advances and our collaborative network of institution-wide and community support. Learn more about how the history of organ transplants at Houston Methodist shaped our current, world-renowned program.
Tradition of Excellence: History of Organ Transplants at Houston Methodist
The 1960s: Beginnings
Houston Methodist’s transplant history begins with our first organ transplant, a kidney, performed in 1963 by legendary surgeon Michael E. DeBakey and his team. Five years later in 1968, we performed the first heart transplant in Texas (among the first in the country) and it seized the public's imagination. Open-heart surgery was scarcely more than 20 years old and the bold drama of transplantation offered hope to victims of end-stage heart failure. Also in 1968, the world’s first multi-organ donor saved four lives with a heart, lung and two kidneys which were transplanted at Houston Methodist. Between 1968 and 1969, our surgical teams performed 12 heart and 2 lung transplants.
The 1970s: Growing Pains
In the 1970s, problems across the nation with rejection made overall survival rates unacceptably low; a temporary pause in heart transplant activity began in 1970. Meanwhile, our corneal and kidney transplant programs continued, as did research started in the 1960s on ventricular assist devices and the artificial heart.
The 1980s: A New Start
By the early 1980s, better understanding of the immune system, advances in detecting rejection and the introduction of the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine provided the momentum needed to reconsider heart and other non-kidney organ transplants. Physicians and surgeons were also encouraged by the successes of our kidney transplant program.
On February 22, 1984, Dr. DeBakey again led a surgical team in performing a successful heart transplant after a 14-year hiatus. Some members of this team had participated in the first heart transplants as residents.
This new era of transplantation demanded a new approach to organ transplantation in general. A faculty and administrative committee at Houston Methodist recommended the creation of a transplant center for all organs — a unique concept at the time. The idea was to integrate existing islands of expertise into a cohesive group that could successfully practice transplant medicine and surgery in an efficient, cost-effective manner without disrupting existing departmental and sectional lines. The bottom line was teamwork.
The Transplant Center was officially established in 1985 with support from the Cullen Trust for Health Care. On August 6, 1987, we became the first Medicare-designated heart transplant center in Texas and one of the first seven in the country. This designation recognized our experience and excellence in heart transplant medicine.
Additional highlights include:
1985 - Houston Methodist surgeons perform their first liver transplant and Texas’s first heart-lung transplant.
1987 - The nation’s first successful single lung transplant is performed at Houston Methodist.
The 1990s: Expanding Our Success
In the 90s, we expanded our scope into diabetes treatment by performing pancreas transplants. In 1990, we transplanted our first kidney-pancreas combination and then in 1993, we performed our first pancreas-only transplant.
The 2000s: Exploring the Future
In the new millennium, we pushed ahead to explore the future of transplantation and organ failure management using the knowledge and expertise we gained through decades of clinical practice and research. We implanted ventricular assist devices (VAD) to give heart failure patients a bridge to transplant. We continued to expand our multi-organ program and we began work with islet transplantation for people with uncontrollable diabetes. Our team participated in our first organ swap operation and we performed our first bloodless operation for a person with religious restrictions on blood transfusion.
Additional highlights include:
2000 - Houston Methodist surgeons implant the nation’s first MicroMed DeBakey-Noon ventricular assist device.
2002 - Texas’s first islet transplant is performed at Houston Methodist.
2004 - Houston Methodist surgeons perform the first heart-liver transplant in Texas.
2005 - The world’s first multi-organ transplant in a patient with a ventricular assist device takes place at Houston Methodist.
2006 - A Houston Methodist patient becomes the world’s first to undergo chemotherapy while implanted with a ventricular assist device.
2008 - Houston Methodist surgeons perform the hospital’s first islet autograft for pancreatitis, a procedure in which islets from the patient’s own pancreas are extracted and transplanted into the liver to enable continuing insulin production without the need for immunosuppressive drugs.
2009 - The first community clinic of the Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center opens in Sugar Land, and Houston Methodist surgeons perform the first three-way kidney swap, the first lung-liver transplant and the first bloodless lung transplant for a Jehovah's Witness.
The center today
Today, we continue our success by focusing on developing new techniques through what we learn from our daily clinical practice and our rigorous research efforts. We participate in programs that coordinate organ swaps on a grander, more complex scale. Our team works with scientists and researchers to devise new methods to reduce the use of immunosuppressant drugs, develop better organ-assist devices and more effective treatments to manage organs that are failing, as well as discover innovative ways to build synthetic organs in order to increase the number or available organs.
Additional highlights include:
2010 - The Methodist Transplant Center is renamed the Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center in honor of Texas philanthropist and heart recipient J.C. Walter Jr. 2010
2011 - Houston Methodist participates in the nation's longest cross-country kidney swap with 30 donors and 30 recipients, a second transplant community clinic opens in West Houston and the Transplant Center establishes a formal partnership with UMC Health System in Lubbock, Texas.