Dr. James Eason, head of the transplant program at Methodist University Hospital and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, had addressed misconceptions about Jobs' case earlier this summer, when he told The Commercial Appeal that the Apple icon was in fact the sickest patient on the waiting list. In his remarks to Bloomberg, Eason went further, laying out his criteria for performing such an operation:
"It's not gaming the system," he said in the Aug. 18 interview in Memphis. "It's people choosing where they want their health care. Some people would leave Tennessee to go to California or somewhere else to seek treatment. Now we have people coming from California to Tennessee."
Eason said he will only perform a liver transplant on a neuroendocrine tumor patient when certain that he can eliminate all the spreading cancer. His results with these patients have been about the same as those with other liver-cancer sufferers, about 70 percent of whom have healthy organs five years after surgery, he said.
A. Benedict Cosimi, a former Harvard surgery professor who trained Eason, said that Eason's experience in performing transplants for patients with neuroendocrine tumor simply made Eason the right choice:
"This is just an example of how if someone is good, people in the know will figure it out," Cosimi said Aug. 19 in a telephone interview.
Of course, a surgeon working out of Methodist University Hospital in inner-city Memphis doesn't just work for the rich and famous, as Eason himself stressed:
Eason, whose 693-bed hospital is the largest in Memphis, said he treats a higher percentage of blacks than the national average. Last year, 15.4 percent of its liver transplant recipients were black, compared with a national rate of 10.3 percent, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, a national database of transplant statistics based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While patients of Jobs's stature are welcome, they aren't regarded differently than anyone else, Eason said.
"Memphis is a very impoverished city in and of itself, with a large minority population," he said. "I can tell you our floors aren't full of billionaires."
Read the rest of the story for more background on neuroendocrine tumors and Jobs' case in particular, not to mention the story of how Eason moved his practice to Memphis after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his clinic in New Orleans.