Westmead transplant pioneer receives NSW surgery medal

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Dr Henry Pleass.

Pioneering Westmead Hospital surgeon Dr Henry Pleass has received a merit award and medal for his distinguished service to surgery in NSW.

Dr Pleass has been a senior specialist transplant and hepatobiliary surgeon at Westmead Hospital for nearly 14 years, forging new frontiers in pancreas transplants while mentoring other surgeons.

In presenting Dr Pleass for the prestigious award, colleague Dr Toufic El-Khoury said everyone involved in transplantation had benefited greatly from Dr Pleass’ expertise, professionalism and creative mindset.

“Henry’s career has been characterised by strong leadership, innovation and thoughtful mentoring,” he said.

“He is always remembered for the utmost respect he has, and taught us to have, for live donors – his most precious and selfless patients.

“This trait, all his trainees (including me) always come to admire.”

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Dr Henry Pleass.

Dr Pleass, who is also a liver transplant surgeon at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, began his career in general and transplantation surgery in the UK before migrating to Australia.

In 1998, he was named the transplant fellow at Westmead Hospital but soon returned to Edinburgh, where he became a senior lecturer and consultant surgeon at the Scottish National Liver Transplant Unit.

Dr Pleass established the pancreas transplant program before returning to Sydney in 2003, where he was recruited to join Westmead’s kidney transplant program.

In that time, Dr Pleass has created global firsts in transplantation surgery.

In 2007, he performed the first donor after circulatory death pancreas transplant – these types of transplants had been occurring for kidneys, but had never been performed for the pancreas.

With the assistance of Westmead researchers Wayne Hawthorne and Phil O’Connell, Dr Pleass then carried out the first successful total pancreatectomy and auto-islet cell transplant in NSW for a child with chronic pancreatitis.

Dr Pleass is currently the head of surgical education for the Sydney Medical Program, a member of the national transplant liaison reference group, chair of the national live donor surgeons’ sub-committee, co-chair of the NSW Transplant Working Group of the Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) and the deputy chair of the Transplant Section of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

He is also the surgical head of the Australian National Transplant Unit, based at Westmead, and has published and presented widely on transplantation, with more than 90 publications.

Dr El-Khoury said many people had benefited from Dr Pleass’ dedication to transplantation.

“His students have benefited from his commitment to teaching, his recipient patients from his outstanding dedication to surgery and the world of transplantation from his ingenuity, innovation and passion,” he said.

Dr El-Khoury also paid homage to Dr Pleass’ wife Karen and children Finn, Maia and Ryder who would often attend Saturday morning ward rounds with their dad.

Congratulations Dr Pleass!