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Starnes Named Chair of Expanded Department of Surgery
Vaughn Starnes will oversee the expanded department, consisting of the departments of Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery and Colorectal Surgery. His appointment became effective December 1, 2008.
By Cheryl Bruyninckx
USC News, December 12, 2008

Dean Carmen A. Puliafito has named Vaughn A. Starnes, M.D., chair of an expanded Department of Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and surgeon-in-chief at USC/Norris Cancer and USC University Hospitals, effective Dec. 1.

"I am delighted to appoint one of our own to this very important new role at the Keck School of Medicine," Dean Puliafito said. "Dr. Starnes is a stellar surgeon and academic leader who will play a pivotal role in building USC's new academic medical center."

Dr. Starnes now holds the H. Russell Smith Foundation Chair for Cardiovascular Thoracic Research. He previously served as chair of the Keck School's Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, which is being merged into the Department of Surgery along with the Department of Colorectal Surgery. He is the founding executive director of the USC Cardiovascular Thoracic Institute and chief of cardiothoracic surgery and director of the Heart Institute at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

As the new chair of the Department of Surgery, Dr. Starnes' priorities include:

  • Building on the foundation established by retiring chair, Dr. Tom DeMeester, who has served in that role since 1990, to create a top-flight academic surgical program.
  • Recruiting nationally recognized leaders in various surgical areas, including liver transplantation, breast surgery, thoracic surgery and colorectal surgery.
  • Focusing on the department's educational programs to be certain the residents and medical students are finishing the program with good exposure to advanced surgical techniques and satisfaction with their educational experience.

"We certainly have a very good foundation," said Starnes. "The model is going to be excellence in clinical care, along with excellence in surgical teaching."

An internationally renowned surgeon, Starnes is acclaimed for his pioneering work in cardiothoracic surgery, heart and lung transplantation, and repair of congenital heart defects. He is also recognized for his expertise in heart surgery for children and newborns.

In 1990, Starnes performed the world's first lobar transplant using a lung segment from a living donor. Three years later, he performed the first live-donor, double-lobar lung transplant on a patient with cystic fibrosis. The operation involved taking lung tissue from each parent and transplanting it into their child.

"Dr. Starnes is a pioneer in the field of cardiothoracic surgery," noted Puliafito in an announcement to Keck School faculty and staff. "He has conducted more living donor lung transplants in adults and children than any other surgeon in the United States."

As the founding executive director of the USC Cardiovascular Thoracic Institute, Dr. Starnes has built an innovative, interdisciplinary powerhouse, comprised of clinicians and basic scientists who are exploring better and more innovative ways of treating heart disease. Under his leadership, USC surgeons have conducted more than 15,000 open heart surgeries to repair and replace valves or create coronary artery bypasses, and more than 10,000 surgeries for diseases of the lungs, esophagus and chest wall. He and his surgical team also performed Southern California's first robotic heart operation in 2001 as part of a clinical trial evaluating the use of a remote surgical system.

For his outstanding work, Starnes has received numerous prestigious awards. In 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Medallion from the University of Southern California for his significant contributions to cardiothoracic medicine and transplantation, his distinguished career as a healer and educator, and his dedication to the advancement of human health and well-being. Starnes is also consistently listed among the "Best Doctors in America" and "America's Top Doctors."

In addition to his clinical work, Starnes is a distinguished researcher. He has an ongoing interest in many areas of research, including congenital heart disease, cadaveric and live-donor organ transplantation, coronary bypass grafting, and repair and replacement of heart valves. He is also involved in bench research, helping develop gene therapy techniques to address problems that occur after balloon angioplasty procedures. Starnes is currently investigating the use of gene therapy to prevent scarring following heart surgery. He is also involved in a clinical trial using robotic surgery technology for cardiothoracic surgery.

"My priority is really to create a top-flight academic surgical program," said Starnes. "I think patients are going to come to USC because they view it as the best place to be for surgery on the west coast."

Starnes succeeds Dr. Tom DeMeester, who served as chair of the Department of Surgery since 1990.

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"My priority is really to create a top-flight academic surgical program. I think patients are going to come to USC because they view it as the best place to be for surgery on the west coast."

Vaughn A. Starnes, M.D.
Department of Surgery
USC Keck School of Medicine

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