Husband, father, traveler, and internationally recognized Swedish transplant surgeon Dr. Goran Klintmalm brought medical innovation to Dallas more than 30 years ago.
“He’s an incredibly innovative man and excellent surgeon,” said Baylor anesthesiologist Dr. Michael Ramsay, who has worked with Klintmalm since 1984.
That year, Klintmalm performed the first liver transplant in Texas at Baylor University Medical Center.
The Highland Park resident’s latest endeavor is an experimental womb transplant trial aimed at helping a woman whose uterus is nonexistent or dysfunctional. If successful, the transplant would allow her to carry her own child.
“It took me a while to really understand the profound importance of this,” Klintmalm said. “Because I am just a man, my entire life I have spent on saving lives, and now this is the first time I am doing something in order to help create life. It’s very different; the success is not the procedure, but a healthy born child.”
Klintmalm compares this trial to pioneering new lands, as there are no road signs, and the doctors must develop their own map.
“With this uterus transplant, it’s not just about having an idea,” said Ramsay. “It’s about following through, and he follows through. His attention to detail will make this trial successful, I believe.”
Klintmalm wanted to be a doctor since he was young. After getting his Bachelor of Science degree from Karolinska Institute in 1971, he obtained his Doctor of Medicine degree and later his Ph.D. in 1984.
“It wasn’t that I thought I’d solve all the problems in the world,” Klintmalm said. “It was that I’d be working with the thought leaders of the world, and it was very exciting for me as a young man.”
Klintmalm’s interest in organ transplantation was piqued while training in general surgery in Stockholm. Deciding to pursue the specialty further, he spent two years in Colorado and Pennsylvania, working in kidney and liver transplantation with Dr. Thomas Starzl, known as the “Father of Modern Transplantation” for having successfully completed the first liver transplant.
In the 1970s, knowledge on transplantation was limited. The survival rate for liver transplants was around 15 percent, and hours were grueling, Klintmalm said. The length of stay for patients was more than a month, and by the time surgeons could finally retrieve organs, patients could die.
“Back in those days, transplantation was a specialty for masochists,” Klintmalm said. “There was only a handful of people who would consider going into transplant. It wasn’t successful. It was a challenge. I was asking myself, ‘Can we make it successful?’”
Klintmalm’s fiancée, Tina, followed him to both Denver and Pittsburgh to work under Starzl as a research technician. They later returned to Stockholm, where he finished his general surgery training, got married, and was involved in the first liver transplantation in Sweden in 1984.
After getting his doctorate, Klintmalm received a call from Starzl, offering him the directorship of transplantation services at Baylor.
“It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Klintmalm. “At that point, my next question was, ‘Can I do what Starzl did in Pittsburgh?’ That is what takes mankind to the next horizon: challenge. There is no other way.”
Today, Klintmalm continues to run one of the most successful liver, kidney, and pancreatic transplantation departments in the world. Under his direction, there have been more than 8,000 solid organ transplantations performed at Baylor.
Klintmalm’s focus is research. He has written extensively on immunosuppression and organ preservation, and is best known for co-authoring Transplantation of the Liver, the book that covers every aspect of liver transplants.
He considers the Baylor program his greatest professional accomplishment and his family his greatest personal accomplishment. He and his wife travel with their three sons all over the U.S. and Canada, and take frequent hunting and skiing trips in the Rockies.
“It’s just us here in the U.S.,” he said. “The rest of the family is back in Europe, so it’s very important for us to stay together as a family. Moving here was an easy decision because it felt the most like home.”