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Trento Wins Pioneer in Medicine Award

Cedars-Sinai Pioneer in Medicine 2021 recipient, Alfredo Trento, MD

Alfredo Trento, MD

Cedars-Sinai director of the Heart Transplant Program, Jon A. Kobashigawa, MD

Jon A. Kobashigawa, MD

At Cedars-Sinai, while Trento was launching the heart transplant program, he also was building the pediatric cardiac surgery program. When he looks back at that time in his life, Trento said, he sometimes thinks, "Wow, how did I do that?"

"The time involvement was enormous," he explained. "There were not many people who had the experience to take care of these patients, so I would find myself very often at the bedside.

"In those years, I would do the transplant, and then go to the intensive care unit and stay with the patient for a few hours to make sure that things were fine," he added. "The transplants were very often late evening or night. And then maybe the next day I would be doing a baby's open heart surgery, and that also required me to be at the bedside."

Trento calls his and Robin's four adult children the couple's "greatest accomplishment," and takes pride in their being "good people" who "have good families." Still, he said, "I always tell my kids I'm so sorry I didn't make it to many of your milestone events" when they were young, because he was caring for patients. One of those children, Luca Trento, followed his father's footsteps into medicine and today practices pediatric cardiology in the Sacramento area.

Trento grew up about an hour's drive inland from Venice, Italy, where his family prospered in the construction materials business. He did his undergraduate and medical school studies at the University of Padua, where he met Robin, an exchange student from UCLA at the time.

Interested in how medicine was practiced in the U.S., Trento came to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, where he stayed for his internship and residency in general surgery and then for postdoctoral research in cardiothoracic surgery. Later, he went to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where he became an assistant professor of Surgery and was part of what was one of the nation's first heart transplant programs. "All of a sudden, I was working on the cutting edge of cardiac surgery," Trento said.

When Cedars-Sinai decided to launch a heart transplant program of its own, it provided a better upward career path for Trento and a much-wanted return to California for Robin, who had grown up in Santa Monica. "I was lucky," he said.

Current and former colleagues at Cedars-Sinai describe Trento as supportive and loyal to his staff. Kass witnessed Trento's loyalty as a friend nearly 20 years ago when they traveled together with their wives to Florence, Italy, for a medical conference. Trento was chosen to moderate a session in which Kass was speaking.

Before the session began, though, Kass suffered a heart attack. Trento had headed to the conference separately after touring a museum but, as soon as he arrived and heard about what had happened to Kass, he left and took a taxi across town to be by his friend's side.

Kass was discharged from the hospital after three days, but given only a day's supply of the medicine he needed. So, Trento scrambled to get Kass more of the medication and took Kass to his mother's home outside of Venice for recuperation. Trento stayed with him for a few more days until Kass was well enough to fly home.

"The fact that he did all of those things for me has put me forever in his debt," Kass said, "and that's the way he treats all of his patients."

Kobashigawa noted a time about four years ago when a number of hearts became available for transplantation but several of the transplant surgeons were on vacation. He said Trento stepped in and performed seven transplants over seven straight days.

"At the end of those seven days, I said, 'Dr. Trento, this was amazing,'" Kobashigawa recalled. "He looked at me and smiled and said, 'Any more to do?'"

Trento, he added, "truly loves what he does."