The Gift of Transplant

David Gerber first witnessed the gift of transplant as a medical student. Today, as chief of abdominal transplant surgery at UNC Hospitals he performs transplant surgeries for patients and as a Lt. Col. in the Air Force Reserves serves as a valuable resource of transplant services for military families.

by Zach Read – Photos by Max Englund –

David Gerber, MD, had completed his general surgery internship and was beginning his second year of residency at Emory University when he met a recruiter from the United States Air Force. It was 1990, and the Gulf War had just begun. The recruiter made the pitch and Gerber listened.

The Air Force didn’t immediately need his services, the recruiter said – they had plenty of general medicine officers available during that time – but they could always use more surgeons in the long term. They’d love to have the commitment, even if it meant waiting until he completed residency.

“He was very good,” says Gerber, smiling. “I got the bug, and it didn’t take long before I felt that joining was the right thing to do. My commissioning date was September 18, 1990 – you never forget your commissioning date.”

After Emory, Gerber returned to the University of Pittsburgh, where he went to medical school, to begin his clinical transplant fellowship at the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. As a medical student, he’d had the opportunity to witness the work of Dr. Starzl, a pioneer in organ transplantation who was on the Pittsburgh faculty.

“I was in my third year, doing rotations in the traditional services, when I came across these very ill, near-death patients who were coming back after the miracle of transplantation,” recalls Gerber. “Transplant was at its infancy, but was rapidly growing. It was truly incredible, and I decided then that I wanted to do it professionally.”


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