“I like fixing problems-in or out of the operating room. Cardiac surgery is a field where you can watch physiology in action. You see the heart beating, identify the problem and fix it, then watch the heart function better right before your eyes.”
“HEART TRANSPLANT AND ORGAN DONOR PIONEER”
Margaret Allen entered the University of California, San Diego Medical School knowing she liked learning how things work, liked to fix problems and liked to work with her hands. A career in cardiothoracic surgery seemed a natural for her, an assumption later born out in 1985 when, working at Stanford University as a resident with famed cardiac pioneer Dr. Norman Shumway, she became the first female surgeon in the United States to transplant a heart.
Since that historic moment, she has expanded beyond cardiothoracic surgery to build a multi-faceted career encompassing cutting-edge scientific research, public health advocacy and health education for minority communities. One of her highlights was to found the University of Washington Medical Center's first heart transplant program, thereby introducing the new technique to the Pacific Northwest. To assure that transplants would be available to all, she secured sufficient state Medicaid and insurance coverage, and kept costs among the lowest in the nation, including not charging professional fees for the transplant.
Nominated as a Local Legend by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA-7), Allen is currently doing basic and translational research in tissue engineering with the goal of repairing and healing the heart muscle after an attack.
An early member of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the national transplant network, she helped to inaugurate the practice of organ sharing in heart transplants. Then she became aware of both the long waiting times for kidney transplants among ethnic minority patients, and the geographic variations in waiting times for liver transplants.
As UNOS president in 1994, she worked to solve these problems by conducting a computer analysis of organ allocation from a national perspective, then initiating policy changes to speed transplants. Also, since organ availability is governed by the number of available donors, she began a National Institutes of Health-funded program to increase awareness of organ donation and transplantation in minority communities.
Beginning in 1992, Allen was selected five times in a row as one of the "Best Doctors in America." She was chosen Woman of the Year by the International Women's Forum in 1990, and featured in the "Women in Health-Moments in Washington State History" exhibit in 1993. As president of UNOS, she shared in the 1995 Smithsonian Institution Computerworld Award in Medicine bestowed on UNOS for developing computerized technology to coordinate rapid placement of donated organs with matching recipients.
"Equity in health care has always been important to me," Allen reflected recently. "New scientific breakthroughs will help alleviate biological health disparities, but disparities in health care are something we need to change today."
Founder and Director, University of Washington Medical Center Regional Cardiac Transplant Program
First female and first thoracic surgeon to be elected national President of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)
Appointed Professor, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle
Appointed Medical Director, The Hope Heart Institute and Chair of Translational Medicine, Seattle
Becomes Full Member and Principal Investigator, The Hope Heart Program at the Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle
University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, CA