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History of Kidney Transplantation

This is a very important milestone in medical science. Because of the success of this kidney transplant, many lives have been saved.

The First Kidney Transplant – December 23, 1954

kdn_transplant”“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.”

“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 transplantation 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 anastomosis 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.

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.

Kidney transplantation is the best way to replace loss of kidney function in patients with end stage Renal Disease suitable for this intervention.


To date, more than 270 000 transplant has been performed in the US.

The first kidney successful kidney transplant was performed in Boston on December 23, 1954 between the identical Herrick twins at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (later Brigham and Women’s Hospital) by a group of surgeons led by Dr. Murray. The recipient lived eight more years after the transplant.

Dr Murray received the Nobel Prize in medicine for this achievement. Since 1954, thousands of lives have been saved and quality of life of patients with kidney failure has improved.

As science has progressed more to understand the process of rejection between donor and recipients, better surgical techniques, newer medications that prevent infections after transplant, transplant recipients have enjoyed more and more the benefits of this life saving procedure.

Currently there are different types of kidney transplant performed in the US and worldwide: Transplant organs can come from a related or non-related living donor or deceased donors. In 2012, 6037 kidney transplants were performed from living donors and 10,082 from deceased donors. Currently, more than 100,000 people in the United States are living with a functioning kidney transplant.

In 1973, Congress enacted Medicare entitlement for end stage kidney disease treatment to provide equal access to dialysis and transplantation for all patients with end stage kidney disease in the Social Security system by removing the financial barrier to care.

Currently, the main obstacle is donor organ shortage. An increasing rise in patients with renal failure coupled with a lack of donor organs has resulted in an average waiting time of more than 4 years for a deceased donor renal transplant.