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Spring 1998
To Save Two Lives
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Founded by Busuttil 13 years ago, the Dumont-UCLA Transplant Center has evolved into the largest liver transplant program in the world. The preeminent surgeon and his team have performed more than 2,500 transplants, almost a quarter of them on children, the youngest little more than a month old. This makes UCLA one of the most experienced centers for pediatric transplantation anywhere.

The program’s reputation has drawn not only seriously ill patients from across the country but also physicians eager to take part in the work. Busuttil, who earned his M.D. in 1971 from Tulane University and honed his surgical techniques at UCLA under noted surgeon Dr. William Longmire, is a legend in the field. “He’s an incredibly motivated and exciting individual to be around,” says Dr. Ken Drazen, who received his M.D. at the State University of New York and has been a member of Busuttil’s team for eight months. “He makes it his duty to educate those around him.”

A thin man with lively eyes, Busuttil has an energy and charm that are infectious. It is a late Monday afternoon, and the doctor sits in his seventh-floor office in the hospital, recovering from a bout of the flu. He laments how he missed the annual children’s Christmas party the day before. “There were about 150 kids I’ve transplanted who I didn’t get to see,” he says. He knows their stories by heart.

Busuttil performs 80 percent of the 350 liver transplants done at UCLA each year. On occasion, he’ll do two operations back-to-back, a startling thought considering some transplants take eight hours. Dedicated. Tough. Warm. Obsessed. They all describe him. “Burnout does not exist in my vocabulary,” he says without irony. “I thrive on what I do. Most of these people, they’re at death’s door. You can’t imagine how sick these people are. They are the sickest of the sick. Six months after surgery, you literally cannot recognize them.”

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