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ZUHDI, NAZIH (1925– )

Heart surgeon Nazih Zuhdi was born in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 19, 1925 to Dr. Omar Zuhdi and Lutfiye Radan Zuhdi. After matriculating at the American University in Beirut, he received his medical degree. In 1951 he immigrated to the United States. Zuhdi served an internship at Columbia University-Presbyterian Medical Center under the prominent surgeon Clarence Dennis. In 1954 he served a fellowship with the equally prominent surgeon C. Walton Lillehei at the State University of New York-Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn. Both of Zuhdi’s mentors led the movement to develop a workable heart-lung machine.

In 1957 Nazih Zuhdi joined the faculty of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Oklahoma City. His task was to set up an open-heart surgery program. Drs. Allen Greer and John Carey, the state’s first board-certified thoracic surgeons, included him in their work. In late 1958 the Sisters of Mercy, under the leadership of Sister Coletta Massoth, gave Zuhdi research space and access to personnel at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City. This important step allowed him to set up Mercy Heart and Research Institute, where, on January 8, 1959, he performed the first cardiopulmonary bypass surgery ever conducted in the state. At Mercy Hospital Zuhdi and his colleagues continued to perfect a heart-lung machine. Zuhdi and Clark A. Ritchie also created a version of an artificial heart.

Zuhdi is responsible for the establishment of a number of other medical institutions in Oklahoma City. In 1982 came the Oklahoma Cardiovascular Institute at St. Anthony Hospital. In 1983, at Baptist Hospital, the Oklahoma Heart Center opened, renamed in 1984 as the Oklahoma Transplantation Institute at Baptist Medical Center. There in 1985, Zuhdi performed the state’s first heart transplant. The Transplantation Institute became the state’s and the nation’s first solid organ transplant center after Zuhdi recruited top specialists in each field and fully staffed and equipped the facility.

Nazih Zuhdi campaigned for a law preventing Oklahoma organ donations from leaving the state, and in 1998 the Oklahoma Legislature passed a suitable measure. Inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1994, he retired in 1999. In his honor the Oklahoma Transplantation Institute was renamed the Nazih Zuhdi Transplantation Institute.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Brooks Barr, The Life of Nazih Zuhdi: Uncharted Voyage of a Heart (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association, 2005). “Nazih Zuhdi,” Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Dianna Everett

Dianna Everett

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