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University Hospital celebrates 50 years of service

SALT LAKE CITY — It started as a hospital that primarily served the local community. Since then, University Hospital has treated more than a million patients from all over the country.

Friday marked the hospital’s 50th birthday.

A lot has happened there in the past five decades. In 1965, the University of Utah Medical Center opened its doors. The new 220-bed medical center had a few dozen doctors and cost $15.6 million. Today there are 527 beds and more than 1,100 doctors.

"Every medical specialty is represented inside these walls,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

Through the years, there have been many medical breakthroughs.

In 1968, it opened the first newborn intensive care unit in the Intermountain West. In 1976, it opened the Intermountain Burn Center. Two years later, it began Air Medical Transport Service.

In September 1981, a new $43 million University of Utah Hospital opened. In 1982, Barney Clark became the recipient of the world's first artificial heart. He lived for 112 days sustained by the pulsating Jarvik-7 heart, forging the path for artificial heart research.

"Everybody remembers Barney Clark and the artificial heart, but we separated three sets of conjoined twins here — very complicated brain surgery,” said former University Hospital spokesman John Dwan. “We had a lot of VIPs. Every time a criminal got shot, we got them here too!"

Dwan, the hospital’s public relations spokesman for 25 years, said the artificial heart transplant certainly put the hospital on the map worldwide.

“The people of Utah and the Intermountain region are really lucky to have this place. The education and the research and the patient care programs here are unsurpassed,” Dwan said. The hospital performed Utah’s first heart transplant in 1985, opened the Huntsman Cancer Institute in 1999, established the first integrated electrophysiology MRI lab in North America in 2009 and performed the world’s smallest liver-kidney transplant to save a toddler in 2014.

KSL reporter Ed Yeates, who covered many stories at the hospital over the years involving hundreds of doctors, researchers and patients, was a guest speaker Friday.

“The university medical campus has always been like a city, perhaps not in its early years when it was just a single building, but when you look at this complex now and the medical campus, it is a city,” Yeates said.

He compared the hospital to Pandora’s box. “You open the lid, these stories just keep pouring out, hundreds of stories — so many you have to pick and choose, wishing you could tell them all, but you can’t,” he said.

In the last year, University Hospital admitted 22,831 patients, provided more than 10,000 inpatient surgeries and 15,000 outpatient surgeries and logged over 40,000 emergency department visits.

“And in these stories, perhaps more than research and discoveries, I remember all the patients over the years,” Yeates said. “But it’s the courageous people who both live and die fighting their illnesses that become so much a part of the story.”

As with any birthday celebration, there were gifts. Representatives from other Utah medical institutions presented University Hospital CEO David Entwistle with a variety of items. The Utah Jazz, whose players are treated at the hospital, brought one too — a Utah Jazz Jersey that says "University Hospital" and the number 50.

The 50 years of breakthroughs and advancements in nearly every aspect of medicine will only continue in the years ahead, hospital officials said.

“So whatever the future (of medicine) will be, I expect that the school of medicine here at the university and this hospital will be at the forefront,” Herbert said.

And with that, the governor issued a proclamation: “By declaring July 10, 2015, as University of Utah Hospital Day, so signed here.”

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc