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Biographical entry Abouna, George Jirges Mansour (1933 - 2016)

BSc London 1956; MB BS Durham 1961; FRCS 1966; MS 1976; FRCSC 1979; FACS 1982; FICS 1996.

5 April 1933
Mosul, Iraq
13 September 2016
Transplant surgeon


George J M Abouna was a pioneering transplant surgeon who worked in the United States, Canada and the Middle East. He created many firsts in organ transplantation and, over the course of a career which spanned more than 50 years, saved thousands of lives across the world. Abouna was a true master of surgery, a scientist who created many innovations and advancements, a medical educator of the highest calibre, and a doctor who always put patient care first. In 2000, he was awarded the Albert Schweitzer gold medal for his humanitarian work, and twice had audiences with Pope John Paul II.

Abouna was born on 5 April 1933 in Al Kosh, Mosul, Iraq, of Chaldean heritage. His father was Mansour Abouna and his mother was Rachel Safar. Abouna also had one sister, Warda. After receiving a scholarship from the government of Iraq, he moved to London at the age of 16 to study engineering. After receiving a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, he convinced the University of Durham to accept his application to medical school. Becoming a doctor was Abouna's lifelong dream. After one year of proving his exceptional ability and maintaining top grades in medical school, while also supporting himself through three part-time jobs, the university gave him a full scholarship to continue in the medical programme.

After qualifying in 1961, Abouna soon began to concentrate on organ transplantation. In the late 1960s, he developed the world's first and only liver perfusion machine, helping extend the lives of patients with liver failure. In 1969 he was invited to relocate to the United States. He held academic and clinical appointments in Denver, Colorado, Richmond, Virginia and Augusta, Georgia.

In 1973, Abouna returned to the UK, to Edinburgh, for advanced research and clinical work. Then in 1974 he accepted an academic and clinical position in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was here that he performed the first liver transplant in western Canada.

In 1978, he moved to Kuwait City, Kuwait, after accepting the position of professor and chairman of surgery at Kuwait University, and for the next 12 years he became the leader of organ transplantation in the Middle East. Patients from across the Arab world and from as far away as Canada would travel to Kuwait to receive life-saving care by Abouna and his team. He established the country's first transplant programme and led the initiative which created the living donor law, as well as serving as the second president of the Middle East Society for Organ Transplantation. During this time, Abouna tirelessly shared and advanced medical knowledge, both in Kuwait and as a visiting professor of surgery at the University of Minnesota and later as clinical professor of surgery, University of Iowa.

After the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Abouna became a professor of surgery in the division of transplantation at Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, until he was invited to become dean of medical sciences and professor and chairman in the department of surgery, Arabian Gulf University, Bahrain. In 2000, he was a clinical professor at Drexel University Medical College in Philadelphia. And in 2002 Abouna accepted the position of dean of medicine in Tripoli, Libya, where he established a transplant programme. He held this position for several years.

Abouna was recognised throughout the world for his expertise in, among other areas, medical education, organ preservation and transplantation (kidney, liver and pancreas), transplantation immunology and immunosuppression, endocrine, hepatobiliary surgery and portal hypertension, fluid and electrolyte therapy and hyperalimentation, organ preservation, and ethical issues in organ donation and transplantation.

During his career, he received numerous awards, including ten degrees and fellowships. He was a member of 33 professional societies and held 19 committee posts. Abouna edited three journals, sat on seven professional editorial boards, authored or edited four books, published 141 contributions to journals and wrote 33 chapters in books. He presented 181 papers and abstracts at national and international meetings.

After he retired, he made his home in Radnor, Pennsylvania, but made many visits to Calgary, Alberta to visit some of his children and to visit Kananaskis and Banff, where he always said the mountains reminded him of his home in Mosul, Iraq. San Diego, California, where one of his sons lived, was another favourite destination; the hot weather and palm trees also reminded him of the Middle East.

Abouna was a member of the Mainline YMCA in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he liked to swim and exercise, and was a member of the choir at St Katharine of Siena in Wayne, where his memorial services were held. He was an avid reader and enjoyed listening to classical music.

George Abouna died on 28 September 2016 at the age of 83 and was survived by his wife Cathy, his former wife, Jennifer, his children, Linda, Judy, Andrew, Ben, Sarah and Adam, and two step-children, Wade and Carla. He also had seven grandchildren (Angela, Gayle, Allison, Andrea, Nate, Lena and Alexander) and nine great-grandchildren.

Andrew Abouna
Judy Klincker

The Royal College of Surgeons of England