Transplant Pioneer Gaetano Ciancio, M.D., Receives First UMMG Faculty Hero Award

When transplant surgeon Gaetano Ciancio rushed from the operating room to the transplant conference room last Thursday, just a tad late for his 3 p.m. meeting with the chairman of surgery, he was greeted by a room full of applauding colleagues and admirers.

“What’s going on here?’’ a stunned Ciancio asked, surgical booties still covering his feet. “It’s not my birthday.’’

Indeed, it wasn’t, but the leadership of the University of Miami Medical Group was celebrating Ciancio, M.D., M.B.A., FACS, professor of surgery and urology and director of urologic transplant surgery, as the first recipient of the UMMG Faculty Heroes Recognition Award, bestowed for showing, day in and day out, how one person can truly make a difference.

“I want to thank you for what you do and recognize, on behalf of the University of Miami practice, your talent, your quality, your scholarship and your extraordinary commitment to your work in all three missions of patient care, research and education,’’ Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., told Ciancio. “On behalf of a really, really big group of 10,000 people at UM and 12,000 at Jackson, I salute you.”

The award, which was established to recognize “unsung heroes” on the faculty who make outstanding contributions in their clinical, research and education initiatives, will be given out monthly. But Eduardo de Marchena, M.D., associate dean for international medicine and chairman of UMMG, said the award committee did not have to search hard for the first honoree.

“The first person we came up with was Gaetano Ciancio,’’ de Marchena said.

Clearly embarrassed by the attention, Ciancio tried to deflect it to the physicians, nurses, researchers, assistants and other members of the kidney-pancreas service who had secretly assembled in the Highland Professional Building conference room.

“I should share this with everybody here,” he said, holding the plaque honoring his “outstanding commitment and valuable service” to patients. “I can’t do what I do without your help.’’

But as Alan Livingstone, M.D., Lucille and DeWitt Daughtry Professor and Chair of Surgery, noted, “No individual is more deserving of being named a UMMG Faculty Hero. He is truly a surgeon’s surgeon.’’

Renowned for his novel approach – and meticulous post-op drawings – of using liver transplantation techniques to resect large renal tumors in the inferior vena cava, Ciancio has given renewed life to countless patients who had run out of hope. Today, thanks to his pioneering work, the Miller School is the only place where inferior vena cava tumor thrombi are removed without cardiopulmonary bypass.

A revered mentor to residents and fellows, Ciancio is also passionate about education. He has worked tirelessly to address the critical shortage of donor organs, especially among minorities, by educating the South Florida community about the need. He also has traveled widely as a visiting professor, performing multiple transplants and oncology surgeries in several Latin American and European countries and helping establish kidney transplant programs, including the laparoscopic donor nephrectomy program at Auxilio Mutuo Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Currently, he’s helping Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who founded a bank to extend microcredit to the poor, try to establish cancer centers in developing countries.

A member of the team that performed the first kidney transplant in Haiti in November 2009, Ciancio has received other much-deserved recognition, including the Honor and Merit Award from the Haitian Transplantation Foundation, a spot on the list of Best Doctors in America, the Miracle Maker Award, the Dean’s Senior Faculty Clinical Research Award, the Honorary Citizen Award of Italy, the Transplant Foundation Honoree Award, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit Award, and, on multiple occasions, the Attending of the Year Award.

A native of Italy who grew up in Venezuela, Ciancio worked in the Amazon delivering medical care under challenging conditions before moving to the U.S. at age 26. He completed his surgical residency and fellowship in transplantation at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center in 1995, then joined the Miller School faculty as an assistant professor of clinical surgery in the Division of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation. In less than seven years, he became a tenured professor and, while preparing for tenure, earned his M.B.A. in health administration at UM.

As Steven Falcone, M.D., M.B.A., associate vice president for medical affairs, chief operating officer for UMMG, and associate executive dean for practice development, told Ciancio at the award ceremony: “You typify the kind of individuals we have on our faculty and we want on our faculty. You are at the forefront of helping us achieve our goals.’’

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