Vaughn A Starnes, MD '77

2013 Distinguished Medical Alumna Award recipient

Roberta Williams

A gifted surgeon, researcher and academic leader, Vaughn A. Starnes, M.D., is recognized internationally for innovations and critical advances in the field of heart and lung transplantation.

Dr. Starnes is Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Surgeon-in-Chief at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital and USC University Hospital, and Distinguished Professor and Chair of the H. Russell Smith Foundation for Cardiovascular Thoracic Research at USC. He also is Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at USC University Hospital and at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, as well as Head of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

A native of Granite Falls, North Carolina, Dr. Starnes received both his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of North Carolina. His internship and residency in surgery were at Vanderbilt University, where he also had a research fellowship in cardiothoracic physiology and pharmacology. That training was followed by residencies in cardiovascular surgery and cardiac transplantation at Stanford University and a fellowship in pediatric cardiac surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in London.

In 1988, Dr. Starnes was appointed assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he served as Chief of the Cardiothoracic Surgical Service and Director of the Heart-Lung Transplantation Program. There, in 1990, he performed the world’s first lobar transplant using a lung segment from a living donor.

Dr. Starnes joined the USC faculty as Hastings Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery in 1992. The following year, he performed the first live-donor, double-lobar lung transplant on a patient with cystic fibrosis. This involved taking lung tissue from both a mother and father and transplanting it into their child. He also was the first surgeon to transplant both a heart and lung into a baby as young as four months.

Dr. Starnes served as Director of the Heart-Lung and Lung Transplant Program at USC University Hospital and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles from 1992 to 2009.

“I have been amazed and inspired by Vaughn’s body of work over the past few decades,” says William J. Fulkerson, M.D., Executive Vice President of the Duke University Health System. “He has been a pioneer in cardiothoracic transplantation, pediatric cardiac surgery and minimally invasive cardiac surgery.”

Dr. Starnes has pursued his primary research interests – adult acquired heart disease, heart and lung transplantation, congenital heart surgery and tissue engineering – with enormous energy and dedication. The results have been important advances in scientific understanding and patient care.  “Vaughn has evolved as an outstanding, innovative scientist and an incredible clinician who has improved and saved the lives of countless children and pushed the envelope of care across this country and around the world,” says Stephen Ray Mitchell, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics and Joseph J. Butenas Professor and Dean for Medical Education at Georgetown University School of Medicine.  “Vaughn clearly has earned the respect of peers, colleagues, patients and their families. He is warm, genuine and beloved by patients.”

Under Dr. Starnes’ leadership, USC surgeons have performed more than 25,000 cardiothoracic procedures; and cardiologists have developed world class programs in electrophysiology, body computing and congenital heart disease.   “Dr. Starnes personally performed more than 12,000 procedures, 4,000 of which were innovative valve operations,” says Roberta G. Williams, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics at the USC Keck School of Medicine. “He also has developed basic and translational research programs in developmental biology, transplant immunology, robotic surgery and gene therapy.”  As one example, he helped develop gene therapy techniques to reduce the occurrence of re-stenosis following balloon angioplasty.

In honor of his achievements, Dr. Starnes was awarded the USC Presidential Medallion, the university’s highest honor, in 2008.

Dr. Starnes has served as president of the Western Thoracic Surgical Association and has been active in a number of other scientific and professional organizations. Through “Hearts Without Boundaries,” an international volunteer organization, he has performed life-saving surgical procedures for Cambodian children with congenital heart defects.

Dr. Williams calls Dr. Starnes “a terrific ambassador for UNC and a role model for all in the field of cardiovascular surgery.”

In recognition of his commitment to excellence and his remarkable record of leadership and innovation in cardiovascular surgery and transplantation, we are proud to present the Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award to Vaughn A. Starnes, M.D.