History of Transplantation

People have always been interested in replacing parts of the human body. A 13th century medieval tale tells of the transplantation of a leg from a deceased Moor to a person whose leg was lost. A medical journal in 1881 discussed the first skin transplant. The patient involved was leaning against a metal door when lightning struck, burning the skin off his arm. The presiding surgeon used skin from a patient who had just died as a temporary graft. In the 1940s Sir Peter Medawar reported using refrigerated skin as a temporary “dressing” for burns. Today there are about 20 skin banks in the United States to contact for grafting.

Corneal transplants were reported as early as 1880, and in 1905 Edward Zirm, an Austrian ophthalmologist, restored sight to a workman blinded by lime. Now at least 41,652 corneal transplants are performed annually from 100 eye banks across the United States.

Dr. Lawler performed the first kidney transplant in the United States in 1950. Patients in the early days did not survive long, but as experiments continued and drugs were developed to overcome the recipients’ rejections, the results began to improve. In the last 25 years more than 80,000 kidney transplants have been performed.

In 1963, Dr. Thomas Starzl performed the first human liver transplant. The drug, cyclosporin, an immunosuppressant, has now increased the one-year survival rate for liver transplant recipients to 70 percent.

The first lung transplant was performed by Dr. James D. Hardy in 1963 at the University of Mississippi.  In 1967, Dr. Richard C. Lillehei at the University of Minnesota, performed the first successful pancreas transplant.

Also in 1967, Dr. Christian Bernard in Cape Town, South Africa, performed the first successful heart transplant, using techniques pioneered at Stanford University by Drs. Norman Shumway and Richard Lower. Today the one-year survival rate is 80 percent. The first successful heart-lung transplant was performed at Stanford University in 1981 by Dr. Shumway and Dr. Bruce Reitz.

Organ and tissue transplantation is an accepted form of medical treatment. The future of donation and transplantation is dependent upon the continued support from both the medical community and the general public. As an individual, you can help by signing up online and talking to your family about donating life.