The following is an excerpt from an article on NPR:
" On Dec. 23, 1954, doctors in Boston gave a kidney to a seriously ill, 23-year-old man in the first successful long-term transplant of a human organ. Since then, transplants have saved more than 400,000 lives. [Says] Dr. Joseph Murray... "We didn't think we made history," Murray says of that first transplant. "We didn't even think of history. We thought we were going to save a patient."
An article describing the transplant from AJR online is quoted here:
"The first human kidney transplantation, one of the seminal events of medical history, occurred on December 23, 1954. After several years of research, including successful kidney transplantations in dogs, the transplantation team at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, MA, was searching for a way to apply their technique to humans. On October 26, 1954, Richard Herrick was admitted to the Brigham with chronic nephritis, and it soon became evident that he was going to die. Richard’s twin brother and best friend, Ronald, agreed to give one of his healthy kidneys to his brother. Extensive testing was carried out, including a successful skin graft from Ronald to Richard and fingerprinting of the brothers at a local police station. The latter test led to a news leak and daily requests for information from the press.
Consultations followed with experienced physicians inside and outside the Brigham, clergy of all denominations, and legal counsel. The transplantation team, led by Joseph E. Murray, a plastic surgeon, and including John Merrill (nephrologist), J. Hartwell Harrison (urologist), and Gustave Dammin (pathologist), as well as a psychiatrist, met several times with the Herrick family. It was only then that the transplantation team was comfortable in offering the option of a transplantation to Richard, Ronald, and, by extension, the Herrick family. Richard had reached the final stage of his disease.
First, the surgeons wanted to do a test run. They needed an appropriate cadaver on which to do the surgery to be certain the kidney would fit in its new site. On December 20, a cold and snowy day, a suitable subject became available and the test surgery was successful. The Herrick operation was scheduled for 3 days later.
On December 23, with intense media attention, the surgery began in two operating rooms. While Murray prepared the transplant site, Harrison was isolating one of Ronald’s kidneys. At 9:50 A .M., Murray gave Harrison the go-ahead to sever the blood supply to the donor kidney. Francis D. Moore, chair of the Department of Surgery, carried the severed kidney into the room at 9:53. One hour and twenty-five minutes later, the vascular anastomoses to Richard’s new kidney were complete.
There was a hush in the room as the clamps were removed, followed by grins as the donor kidney turned pink and urine began to flow briskly.
Joel Babb (1947– ). The First Successful Kidney Transplantation, 1996.
Oil on canvas, Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.
Richard thrived and married his recovery nurse. They had two children. However, Richard died in 1962 from a recurrence of his original kidney disease in the transplanted kidney.
Murray received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990.
This historic surgery opened the immense field of transplantation surgery.
The event is memorialized in the painting by Joel Babb, which recreates the events of December 23. The painting hangs in the main lobby of the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.