Friday, June 23, 2017

Kidney transplant in June 1950

I'm accustomed to calling Murray's 1954 surgery the first successful kidney transplant, and indeed the first successful organ transplant.
(see my post  A transplant makes history--Joseph Murray’s 1954 kidney operation ushered in a new medical era.)

But there were earlier attempts, and there's room to disagree on what constitutes a success. Here's a recent anniversary article about an earlier kidney transplant, from a deceased donor (and also before immunosuppression--Murray's surgery involved a live donation from one identical twin to another...)

This Day In Science June 17, 1950 – First successful kidney transplant operation was performed

"On June 17th 1950 Dr. Richard Lawler performed the first successful kidney transplant. The recipient was Ruth Tucker, a 44-year-old woman who had polycystic kidney disease (PKD).
"A transplant was risky but the only real option for survival for Tucker, as dialysis was not yet widely available. The donor kidney was removed from a patient who had died of cirrhosis of the liver.

“Not the most ideal patient, but the best we could find,” said Dr. Lawler after the surgery. The transplant surgery was quick, and 45 minutes after removal of the kidney from the donor the operation was complete. Tucker was released from the hospital a month later.
"The kidney functioned for at least 53 days, but it was removed 10 months after the surgery as it had been rejected. This transplant was conducted well before the development of immunosuppressant drugs and tissue typing which would have helped prevent organ rejection.

"Ruth Tucker had PKD in both of her kidneys, leaving one non-functioning and the other functioning at 10%. The donor kidney gave her body the chance to resume normal kidney function, therefore when the donor kidney was removed, Ruth was able to live another 5 years with her one remaining kidney. She died in 1955 from coronary artery disease which was unrelated to PKD and her organ transplant.

"Dr. Richard Lawler never performed another transplant, saying that he “just wanted to get it started”.

Here's some more detail on the website of the Little Hospital of Mary in Chicago, where the surgery was performed.

First Successful Organ Transplant, Little Company of Mary, 1950

"The surgery was extremely courageous, given that it was done without anti-infection drugs, tissue typing and other advances that are now standard. A Newsweek article a week after the surgery was headlined, “Borrowed from the Dead”. The article stated, “Successful transplants have been made of bones, skin, nerves, tendons and eye corneas. But up to last week, no vital human organ had ever been moved from one person to another. Then, in a daring surgical feat, Dr. Richard M. Lawler of the Little Company of Mary Hospital, Chicago, removed a diseased kidney from Mrs. Ruth Tucker…The patient was ‘willing to gamble rather than lie back and wait for death,’ Dr. Lawler said.” A month later, Tucker was released from the hospital, a medical miracle. She lived five years before dying from a coronary occlusion following pneumonia."

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