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Sun Lee


1920 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Sun Lee Obituary
Sun Lee October 4, 2015 la jolla Sun Lee Dies at 95; "Father" of Experimental Microsurgery Dr. Sun Lee, an innovative pioneer in the field of experimental microsurgery who paved the path for organ transplantation in humans, died peacefully on October 4 at his home in La Jolla, California surrounded by his family. He was 95. Dr. Lee was born in Korea, and came to the United States in 1950 to further his training as a surgeon. Having completed his surgical residency at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh, he joined Dr. Bernard Fisher at the University of Pittsburgh in 1955. Dr. Lee soon progressed to experimental surgery in large animals, then experiments in microsurgery in rats. By 1957 he had performed the first successful portacaval shunt in rats, and within another year had invented and adapted a number of surgical instruments to facilitate microsurgical procedures. These developments enabled him to perform the first successful kidney transplant in rats by 1961. Three years later, Dr. Lee's groundbreaking achievements in transplantation surgery led to an invitation by Dr. Frank Dixon, founder of Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, to lead a team to develop rat kidney transplant techniques in immunological studies. Fueled by his belief that "in research you can really do something for mankind," these studies crucially informed subsequent developments that mitigated rejection of transplanted organs. During this period, Dr. Lee refined and expanded the scope of microsurgical techniques for transplantation to include the pancreas, liver, stomach, spleen, heart, and lung (also heart-lung). These successes resulted in a near-total replacement of large-animal surgical experimentation with rodent-based microsurgical transplantation. Soon the international medical community took notice and Dr. Lee traveled to more than 40 countries, training countless scholars and surgeons in the nascent disciplines of microsurgery and organ transplant technique. The University of Debrecen in Hungary has honored Dr. Lee's work with a permanent exhibition in the Sun Lee Microsurgical Museum and Dr. Lee was appointed honorary president of the International Microsurgical Society. Dr. Lee joined the faculty of the medical school at the University of California, San Diego soon after its founding in 1968, and worked there until a nominal retirement in 1985. That same year, he founded the San Diego Microsurgical Institute and carried out cutting-edge research and training for medical students and surgeons from across the globe in the fine skills of microsurgical transplantation. Dr. Lee's final research was aimed at increasing the availability of donor organs. By transplanting the same organ into successive generations of rats, he sought to identify the inherent lifespan of individual organs. His enthusiasm and passion for this research never waned until his retirement at the age of 90. Dr. Lee is survived by his wife of 70 years, the former Jin (Jean) Hwa Hwang; daughters Gloria Yim, Janet Lee and Donna Lee of Southern California, and Marlene Carneiro of New York; son Thomas Lee of Palo Alto; and five grandchildren. He was predeceased by his eldest son, William Lee.
Published in The San Diego Union Tribune on Oct. 11, 2015
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