Vincenzo Gallucci and the first heart transplant in Italy

That night between November 13 and 14, 1985, a heart stopped, the time between two beats expanded from a few moments to hours, before returning to beat in the chest of another person.

Who knows if, at three o’clock in the morning, Vincenzo Maria Gallucci, a heart surgeon and university professor, thought about it while the grey Mercedes on which he was aboard sped along the Mestre tangential road. On his knees was the thermal bag with the heart of Francesco Busnello, an eighteen-year old boy from Treviso who had just died from a road accident. They came from Treviso hospital, where the explant was made, and waiting for them in the heart surgery department of Padua was the already open chest of Ilario Lazzari, a carpenter from Vigonovo suffering from a severe form of dilated cardiomyopathy.

To give fame to Vincenzo Gallucci was the heart transplant that he performed that night, the first in Italy. The next day, at six in the morning, whole Italy was waiting for him outside the operating room. He had given back life and hope to a man and to many other sick people, who since then would no longer have been forced onto “journeys of hope” overseas.

Service taken from the news of Antenna 3 of 1985 with interviews with Luigi Diana and Vincenzo Gallucci, immediately after the innovative operation

Shy and taciturn, tenacious and determined, of impenetrable intimate shyness, incredibly kind cultured and full of humanity. He had a dialectic and a synthetic logic, dry gestures. He taught his students by example, with very few words whispered in the least expected moments.

His surgical skills were the result of years of study and hard and constant work, first in Padua in Pier Giuseppe Cevese’s team, then in Paris in the heart surgery centre of the Hôpital Broussais and, finally, in America. There he spent five years at the Charlotte Memorial Hospital directed by Paul W. Sanger, where he worked alongside Francis Robicsek, an expert in congenital heart disease, and at Baylor University in Houston alongside two cardiac giants, Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley. Gallucci returned to Padua in 1969 to the surgical clinic directed by Cevese. It was the beginning of a brilliant career: in the following years, he became head physician of the heart surgery centre and the professor of cardiovascular surgery at the University of Padova.

A little more than five years after the historic transplant, the car on which he was travelling ended up on the guardrail killing the heart surgeon, once again returning with his colleagues from a complicated operation.