Dr. Vaughn A. Starnes earned his medical degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977 and last week, his work made international headlines.
A tearful Jimmy Kimmel used his show’s monologue to share an emotional account of his newborn son’s open-heart surgery and a plea that all American families have access to the life-saving medical care they need.
Starnes, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, was the surgeon who completed the procedure that may have saved Kimmel’s son, William John.
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Several hours after his wife, Molly, gave birth April 21 to William John, a nurse at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles alerted the couple and doctors to the baby’s purple-ish color and an apparent heart murmur, Kimmel said.
A sonogram showed his son was born with holes in the wall separating the right and left sides of the heart and a blocked pulmonary valve, Kimmel said. The baby, nicknamed Billy, was taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles to undergo surgery to open the valve.
“The longest three hours of my life,” Kimmel said.
Starnes is a distinguished professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery, H. Russell Smith Foundation chair and executive director of the CardioVascular Thoracic Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.
He earned his medical degree at UNC and did his general surgery training at Vanderbilt University, where he also completed two years of research in cardiothoracic physiology and pharmacology.
Starnes also completed two years at Stanford University as a resident in cardiovascular surgery, and one year as chief resident in cardiac transplantation before accepting a fellowship in pediatric cardiovascular surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in London. When he returned to Stanford, he was appointed director of the university’s heart-lung transplantation program. In 1990, Starnes performed the world’s first lobar transplant using a lung segment from a living donor.
Three years later, he performed the first live-donor, double-lobar lung transplant on a patient with cystic fibrosis. The operation involved taking lung tissue from each parent and transplanting it into their child.
He joined USC in July 1992 and was appointed chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in 1997. Under his leadership, USC surgeons have conducted more than 15,000 open-heart surgeries to repair and replace valves or create coronary artery bypasses and more than 10,000 surgeries for diseases of the lungs, esophagus and chest wall.
Starnes and his surgical team also performed Southern California’s first robotic heart operation in 2001 as part of the clinical trial evaluating the use of a remote surgical system.
Kimmel’s son Billy will have another open-heart surgery within six months to repair the openings and then a third procedure when he’s a young teen, but he came home six days after the surgery and is “doing great,” Kimmel said. He shared photos of him with his wife, their 2-year-old daughter Jane and a smiling Billy.
For more information on Starnes, go to www.chla.org/profile/vaughn-starnes-md.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett