Organ Transplant, Older than You Think
Although a kidney was the first human organ to be transplanted successfully in 1954, the concept of organ transplant goes back to as early as 600BC, where "doctors" attempted to replace human noses that were likely damaged in battle, with flaps of human skin. (a.) By the time the 16th century rolled around "plastic surgeons" were performing nose-replacement surgery with a reasonable rate of success. (a.) As early as 1902, surgeons were transplanting kidneys from animal to animal and by 1909 doctors were transplanting kidneys from monkeys into humans, although with a low success rate as the organs failed within a couple of days resulting in the death of the patient.
The Fist Successful Organ Donation and Transplant
In December of 1954 the very first successful human kidney transplant was performed by Dr Joseph E. Murray and his team at Peter Bent Brigham hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. The transplant was performed on identical twins Richard and Ronald Herrick, with Ronald being the first ever organ donor. Ronald's twin brother, Richard Herrick, was suffering from chronic kidney failure, a disease that, in the 1950's, was considered to be an eventual death sentence. Ronald was desperate to save his brother's life and offered up his one of his kidneys for donation. The fact that the brothers were identical twins was a positive factor in the face of organ rejection and one of the reasons why the pioneer medical procedure went ahead in the first place. The operation was extremely risky for both brothers. While Richard faced the possibility of complete rejection of his brother's organ, Ronald faced complications from general anesthesia, hemorrhage, possible accidental injury of a nearby vital organ, and serious infection among other risk factors. (b.)
Despite the incredible risk, sacrifice and technical difficulty, the complex multiple surgeries began at 8:15 on the morning of December 23, 1954. One hour and 22 minutes later, the procedure was complete and Dr. Murray and his team had performed the first successful human organ transplant. Richard Herrick lived for another 8 years after the surgery and died in 1963 while his donor brother Ronald died at the age of 79 in 2010 from heart complications. Dr. Murray went on to win the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1990 and died at the age of 93 in 2012. (c.)
Recent Organ Donation Statistics
In the United States in 2019, there was a total of 7,397 living donors. According to the Mayo clinic, a living-donor transplant is a transplant surgical procedure to remove a healthy organ or portion of a healthy organ from a living person and place it in another person whose organ is no longer functioning properly. (d.)
39,718 organ transplants were performed in 2019, a record year. Out of those 7,397 were living donors, donating an organ to others in need.
In 2019, around 62% of organ recipients were male and 38% of organ recipients were female. As of March 2020, there are more than 112,000 candidates waiting for transplant on the U.S. national organ transplant waiting list. Around 2,000 of those are children, while 2 out of every 3 people on the U.S. national organ transplant waiting list are 50 years old and over. (e.)
Top 5 facts sources:
a. Barker, C, Markmann, J. (2016), "Historical Overview of Transplantation."
b. Murray, Joseph E. (2020), Retrieved from: “ The Fight for Life"
c. Top5ofanything.com Research 2020.
d. Mayo Clinic. (2020), "Living-donor transplant".
e. Organdonor.gov, (2020), “ Organ Donation Statistics "