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Christoph Eric Broelsch, M.D., PH.D., 1944-2019

Dr. Christoph E. Broelsch died on February 12, 2019 at the age of 75 following a protracted illness. He is survived by his wife Bianka, 3 sons and 6 grandchildren. Born in Hanau, Germany on September 14, 1944, he grew up in Bremen with 4 sisters and one brother until the family moved to Berlin in the late 1950's. Graduating from the Gymnasium Steglitz in 1963, he pursued medical studies at the University of Cologne and Friedrich-Alexander-University, in Erlangen. His next ten years were spent at Hannover Medical School under the guidance of the late Professor Rudolf Pichlmayr where he assimilated the skills necessary for successful transplantation and advanced hepatobiliary resection. Distinguishing himself in both surgical expertise and leadership, he was recruited to the University of Chicago in 1984 as part of the first wave of de-novo liver transplant programs sprouting throughout the United States and became director of the Medical Center's liver transplant program.

The relative scarcity of liver donors from cadaveric sources, particularly in the pediatric population was quickly apparent and generated interest in the possibility of segmental liver grafts including segments from healthy living donors. With a keen understanding of the impediments to the use of living donors, Dr. Broelsch and his team worked methodically to solve both the anatomic barriers and ethical constraints culminating in a publication in August 1989 in the New England Journal of Medicine. In this article they carefully outlined their medical and ethical reasoning in a proposal to transplant a portion of the liver from a healthy relative into an infant with advanced liver disease. On November 27, 1989, the transplant world followed as Broelsch’s team performed the first living donor liver transplant in the United States and one of the first successful attempts in the world. The donor was a 29 year old mother who donated her left lateral segment to her 21 month old daughter. Through the guidance of the transplant team, the child thrived and has grown into a healthy adult with her own family at the time of this writing. Over the next five years, the University of Chicago and Broelsch’s team became the leaders in adult to pediatric living donor liver transplantation, performing 78 of these operations, representing close to half of all those performed throughout the United States. Their success stimulated many surgeons throughout the world to develop similar programs while others worked to solve the technical problems that soon led to the application of living donor and split liver transplantation into adult recipients.

In 1991, Dr. Broelsch was recruited back to Germany to lead the transplant program at the University Medical Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf where he continued his success in cadaveric and living donor liver transplantation. His next move was in 1998 (through 2007) to the University Hospital in Essen where he became the Professor and Chairman of the Department for General, Visceral and Transplantation Surgery. By now, adult to adult live donor liver transplantation was demonstrating increasing success with interested teams converging on Dr. Broelsch’s program to cultivate expertise necessary to start their own programs. Dr. Broelsch always opened his arms to such initiative and, indeed, is responsible for the training of members of this writer’s surgical team and their success as the first adult to adult transplant team in Boston.

Dr. Broelsch received multiple honors for his innovations including the Federal Cross of Merit (1991), the Lucie-Bolte-Prize (2002) and the Grand Cross of Merit of the Fedeal Republic of Germany (2004). But he is most recognized by the surgical world as a pioneer in the field of liver transplant surgery who stimulated a whole generation of young surgeons to enter the field and build upon the foundations that he and his team established at the University of Chicago. His innovation, thoughtfulness and love of life will be sorely missed by the international transplant community.