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Transplant Hero: Dr. Guy Fradet, Former Surgical Director, Lung Program

“There is never a week that passes when I don’t have memories of my transplant patients, those who are still alive and those who have died. I can still see their faces.”
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Dr. Guy Fradet left his mark on BC’s transplant program as part of the team that established the province’s lung transplant program, which today offers hope to dozens of British Columbians each year.

In September 2017, the Canadian Society of Transplantation recognized Dr. Fradet’s contributions to lung transplantation – in BC and in Canada – by awarding him the Dr. Joel D Cooper Award for Outstanding Contribution to Lung Transplantation in Canada. The award is named after the Canadian doctor who performed the world’s first successful lung transplant in Toronto in 1983.

Tell us about your connection to organ transplantation in this province.

I came to Vancouver from Montreal in the early 1980s to train in cardiac and thoracic surgery. Dr. Bill Nelems, BC’s first thoracic surgeon, was interested in developing the lung transplant program here and recruited me to work with him. I spent some time training in England, which was at the forefront of lung transplantation. While there, I performed a few heart-lung transplants on people from Vancouver, and that really opened my eyes to the need for a program back home. 

Back then, lung transplantation wasn’t available in BC, or even Western Canada, so lots of people – mostly kids – had to go to England for the surgery. Many died there waiting or had to recover for a long period of time after what is a difficult and traumatic surgery. When they came home, there wasn’t a lot of expertise to support them. This was the main incentive for us to develop the program. 

What were some of the challenges you faced?

I entered the field at a time when lung transplantation was still an emerging field, and patients were starting to have better survival outcomes. The science was just starting, so we discovered everything as we went. New immunosuppression drugs were coming on the market, we were discovering new types of infections and new connections between rejection and virus loads. The biggest challenge was to stay current and be part of defining the science.

Transplantation can be a hard field because it’s very emotional. It takes a piece of you with it. You have great success stories and you have sad stories—they’re all embedded in your memories.

What did you achieve in those years with the lung transplant program?

We were able to put together a good, innovative program. We took good care of patients and we started to see excellent results. We developed a scientific process of data collection and management and looking at our outcomes to address shortcomings.
Now, there’s a bank of knowledge and the people working in those years contributed to making the science what it is today. We started when transplant was so new and exciting to today, when in many cases it’s almost a routine procedure.

What are some of your best memories of your time in transplant?

My time in transplant is very special to me. It was hard work. We spent a lot of nights flying around the province retrieving organs then coming back and transplanting them the following day. It was very satisfying because we changed the lives of many people. 

We also developed an amazing clinical team. In that field – like in many other fields in medicine – it’s not about an individual surgeon or physician. It’s really how good your team is, and we had amazing people on ours. I recall nurse coordinators spending the night with patients and the family waiting at bedside, and supporting them when we were waiting to see if it would be a go for a transplant.

It truly was beyond the call of duty, for all of us. I feel that I was lucky to be part of that.

How did you feel when you heard you won the award?

Total shock. I was wondering if they had the right person! [laughs]

Congratulations to Dr. Fradet for your award, and thank you for your dedication for so many years to BC’s transplant program. The capacity and expertise that you helped develop in BC resulted in a record 40 lung transplants in 2016!

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