Honoring an Organ Donation Hero

The organ/tissue transplant world suffered a major loss earlier this week with the passing of James Wolf. I apologize for the long post, but please take a moment to pay tribute to this incredible man…a heart transplant recipient and a true leader in the organ/tissue transplantation community.

It’s with honor that I share this tribute from our friends at Gift of Hope and Donate Life America.

-Scott
In Memory of James S. Wolf, MD
All of us at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network express our deepest sorrow on the passing of James Wolf, MD—a founder of our organization, the United Network of Organ Sharing and Donate Life America. A visionary who truly helped shape the field and the nation’s perceptions of donation and transplantation, Dr. Wolf passed away Monday, August 6.

A transplant surgeon by practice, Dr. Wolf was a gifted collaborator, leader and mentor to countless people across the nation. His passion for serving the needs of donor families and transplant patients alike drove him and all who worked with him to make continuous advances in all of our efforts.

Throughout his life, Dr. Wolf emphasized that ”it is only through the altruism of the public that organ donation is possible.” He was among the first transplant professionals to advocate for the importance of public education in increasing donation and saving lives.

In 1985, as president of the Illinois Transplant Society, Dr. Wolf worked tirelessly to bring together all of the hospital administrators and transplant surgeons in Illinois to support a single vision: forming a single organ procurement organization. Dr. Wolf was named project director. Through his leadership, we began operations in July 1987 as the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois.

“Dr. Wolf had the tenacity, the respect for others and the natural leadership to bring together a varied group of organizations and focus them on achieving one mission,” said Gift of Hope President/CEO Jerry Anderson, who has led the organization since its inception.

“That mission was to make the donation and transplantation system as effective and equitable as possible—to save and enhance as many lives as possible. That is what he stood for, and that is the mission we continue to work toward today.”

Dr. Wolf (center) and then Coalition on Donation President Howard Nathan (right) present the coalition’s 2002 James S. Wolf Courage Award to Olympic snowboard medalist and liver transplant recipient Chris Klug.

As both Chairman of the Board and Medical Director of ROBI, Dr. Wolf consulted with state leaders and national experts in advertising and marketing to develop messages that the public would accept and act on to become organ/tissue donors. In 1992, he founded and became the first president of the national Coalition on Donation, today called Donate Life America—a not-for-profit coalition of n ational organizations and local affiliates serving as a national voice inspiring all people to save and enhance lives through donation.

In his honor, Donate Life America established the “Dr. James S. Wolf Courage Award” in 1999 to recognize individuals who have played a significant national role in educating the public about organ and tissue donation.

“Even as he worked tirelessly to help establish the systems and structure for donation and transplantation in this country, Dr. Wolf had a clear vision that a well-educated public was a critical component to the success of donation,” said David Bosch, President of Donate Life America and Gift of Hope Communications Director.

“Donate Life America and the millions of people we have reached through our public education efforts are indebted to Dr. Wolf—for his vision and his commitment to seeing it through.”

Dr. Wolf (center right) joins other donation and transplant advocates, donor family members and transplant recipients taking part in the 1998 U.S. Transplant Games.

In addition to his work with the national coalition and ROBI, Dr. Wolf served in numerous capacities at Northwestern University Medical School until 1994. Among his roles were University Medical School Professor of Surgery, Chairman of the Division of Transplantation and Associate Dean of Medical Education.

Dr. Wolf earned his medical degree from the University of Illinois, and completed his training in surgery and transplantation at the Medical College of Virginia under kidney transplant pioneer David Hume. During his tenure as Chairman of the Division of Surgery at McGuire Veterans Administration Hospital in Richmond, Va., from 1968 to 1976, he became an influential national adviser and played a central role in founding the United Network for Organ Sharing. He later served in numerous capacities including OPTN/UNOS Treasurer in 1987-1988; OPTN/UNOS President in 1990-1991; and UNOS’ Director of Medical Affairs from 1994 to 2000.

Dr. Wolf resigned from UNOS due to heart disease and ultimately received a heart transplant at the Texas Heart Institute in 2001. He noted proudly throughout his eight-month wait for a donor heart that despite his influence in the transplant field, the allocation system he helped develop treated him the same as any other candidate.

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, 660 N. Industrial Drive, Elmhurst, IL, 60126. A second memorial service is tentatively planned in Chicago later this month.

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