Edward M. Copeland, III, MD: Unsung heroes

Published: Monday, January 9, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 10:45 p.m.

The University of Florida had the first cardiac transplant program in the state of Florida. The program’s development was spearheaded by Drs. James Alexander and Michael Carmichael and was quickly joined by Drs. Daniel Knauf and Mark Staples.

These individuals are true heroes to the patients whom they served, as are the pilots, flight nurses and technicians who flew the missions to retrieve organs. The same can be said of Dr. Richard Howard, who spearheaded the liver transplant program.

Interestingly, these programs were developed with some initial resistance by the hospital administration, but the diligence to task demonstrated by these individuals quickly brought in the hospital and its resources for support.

Possibly lost in this history is Dr. William Pfaff. He developed the initial renal transplant program here and, were it not for his singular efforts, the other transplant programs at Shands Hospital and in the state of Florida would have been much later in development.

At one time the University of Florida Shands Hospital transplant programs were the seventh largest in the United States. These programs included bone marrow, cornea and bone transplantation.

The first level one Trauma Center in the State was developed at Shands at Jacksonville, by Drs. Raymond Alexander and Joseph Tepas. Rapid transport of injured patients by air evacuation from the scene of injury has revolutionized trauma care and saved the lives of numerous patients. These teams often have to fly into “uncharted” areas to rescue patients.

I doubt that the residents of North Florida are aware of this history and I felt moved to record it. I observed this development as the chairman of The Department of Surgery at the University of Florida from 1982-2003, and am humbled by the dedication of the individuals involved in all medical air transport programs across our nation and the world. Their lives are on the line each time they lift off.

Edward M. Copeland, III, MD, lives in Gainesville.

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