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UC Transplant Program Founder Dr. J. Wesley Alexander Dies

UC Transplant Program Founder Dr. J. Wesley Alexander Dies

Published: 7/11/2018

J. Wesley Alexander, MD, emeritus professor of surgery who started the University of Cincinnati organ transplant program in 1967, died Saturday, July 7. He was 84 years old. 

Alexander was named the first director of the Division of Transplantation at UC in 1967, a position he held until 1999. On Dec. 11, 1967, he performed the first kidney transplant at General Hospital (now University of Cincinnati Medical Center). He joined David Melvin, MD, on Dec. 17, 1985, to perform the first adult heart transplant in Cincinnati. He also performed UC's first combined kidney-pancreas transplant in 1970 and first liver transplant in 1986. Additionally, Alexander played key roles in the development of UC's burn and surgical infectious disease programs. Even near the end of his career he was one of the busiest bariatric surgeons in the region.

"Dr. Alexander was a great teacher, both in the operating room and in the laboratory. He was a cherished member of the Department of Surgery as well as a great citizen of Cincinnati, to which he has contributed spectacular and unique advances in health care," William Ball, College of Medicine dean and UC senior vice president for health affairs, and Michael Edward, MD, Christian R. Holmes Professor and chair of surgery, wrote in a message to college faculty and staff about Alexander's death.

A native of El Dorado, Kansas, Alexander received his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1957 and a Doctor of Science degree from UC in 1964. He completed his internship and surgical residency at UC and General Hospital in 1964. Following two years of duty with the United States Army, Dr. Alexander completed a fellowship in immunology at the University of Minnesota and then returned to Cincinnati in 1967 to join the UC faculty as an assistant professor. He was named a professor in 1975 and became the inaugural holder of the William A. Altemeier Professorship in Research Surgery in 2000. He was appointed professor emeritus in 2008.

Widely known for his expertise in preventing surgical infections, especially in burn victims, he established one of the nation’s first surgical immunologic research laboratories. Known locally and internationally as a leader in transplantation, he also served as acting director of the Hoxworth Blood Center from 1972 to 1979; director of research at the Shriners Hospital for Children—Cincinnati; founder, president and medical director of the Ohio Valley Life Center from 1981 until 1999; and founder and president of the Ohio Valley Tissue and Skin Center from 1987 until 1992.

Among his most notable awards were the Harvey Stuart Allen Distinguished Service Award from the American Burn Association (1994), the George Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research from UC (1996), the Daniel Drake Medal (1997) from the College of Medicine and the Distinguished Service Award from the Cincinnati Surgical Society (2005).

Alexander was active in many professional organizations, serving as president of the American Burn Association (1984-1985), the Surgical Infection Society (1986-1987) and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (1988-1989), and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Halsted Society (1988-1991). He also served on numerous national committees, National Institutes of Health Study Sections and as a grant reviewer.

Alexander received NIH research grant funding for more than 35 years totaling nearly $10 million and an additional $2 million in industry grants. His research efforts resulted in seven U.S. patents between 1991 and 2001 and more than 700 published scientific papers.

Alexander is survived, by his wife, Maureen; children Joseph Alexander, Judith Alexander-Priest, Randolph Alexander, Elizabeth Morgan, Lori Rump, Molly Strohofer and Charles Alexander; 19 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Services are scheduled for 5 p.m., Friday, July 27 at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church, 1345 Grace Ave.

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