Today in Apple history: Steve Jobs returns to work after liver transplant

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Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs underwent a liver transplant earlier in the year.
Photo: Ben Stanfield/Flickr CC

Jun22 June 22, 2009: Steve Jobs returns to work at Apple, a couple of months after undergoing a liver transplant as part of his cancer treatment.

Although Jobs has been steadily getting back into work for the past several weeks, the news is made official when a quote from him appears on a June 22 press release about iPhone 3GS sales. An Apple employee also alerts the media after spotting Jobs on campus.

With his return confirmed, everyone wants to know how long Jobs will continue to lead Apple.

Steve Jobs’ health problems

Jobs’ health problems had been well known for years by 2009. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2003, he informed his employees of his illness in mid-2004. However, while the prognosis for pancreatic cancer is usually poor, Jobs had a rare, less aggressive type of cancer called islet cell neuroendocrine tumor.

Jobs rejected doctors’ recommendations to undergo surgery to treat the cancer for nine months, deciding instead to treat the condition with alternative therapies. These included vegan diets, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and even consulting a psychic.

He ultimately underwent surgery in July 2004, with Tim Cook temporarily assuming the role of Apple CEO for the first time. During the surgery, doctors found liver metastases, which prompted Jobs to begin chemotherapy.

Jobs returned to Apple in 2005, and told everyone he had been cured — which is the same thing he told students during his famous Stanford commencement address in June 2005. Sadly, he wasn’t — and this was obvious to everyone by the August 2006 WWDC event, where Jobs appeared much thinner than before.

Apple denied stories that Jobs was ill, but the rumors reared their head again at WWDC 2008. This time, Apple said Jobs had been suffering from a “common bug” and had been prescribed antibiotics. In January 2009, Apple’s story changed again: Now, the company said Jobs suffered from a “hormone imbalance” that made him unwell.

Jobs’ illness more serious than previously thought

Finally, Jobs admitted in an internal memo that his “health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.” He said he would take a six-month leave of absence until June 2009. This was to allow Jobs to undergo a liver transplant. As we now know from the book Becoming Steve Jobs, Cook offered his boss a portion of his own liver for the transplant, although Jobs turned it down.

Jobs underwent surgery at Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, in April 2009. As promised, he then took off several months to recover before returning to Apple in June.

Although his prognosis was reportedly “excellent,” the media still asked questions. CNBC, for instance, wrote this in the same report claiming that Jobs was back at work:

“Now, the broader question is whether today is a one-hit-wonder, whether he won’t be here tomorrow, whether his return to Apple full-time is actually coming earlier than the ‘end of June’ time-frame the company has maintained since he left on medical leave in January.

Either way, if the liver transplant time-frame is accurate, and he had the procedure done only two months ago, his return today is pretty impressive.

Meantime, we still await official word from Apple, but employees are confirming this. The news is solid. Jobs is back in the house, at least for today.”

The return lasted until mid-2011, when Jobs finally handed the role of CEO to Cook for good. It was an eventful couple of years, however — during which Jobs launched the iPad, acquired Siri and worked to integrate the AI assistant into the iPhone, worked on plans for Apple’s “spaceship” Apple Park campus, and much, much more.