Researchers experimented with organ transplantation on animals and humans in the 18th century, mostly without success. Early records from the eighteen hundreds describe successful skin graft transplants, but by the mid-20th century, surgeons were performing successful organ transplants with vital organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidney and pancreas.
The history of transplant firsts is an interesting one with rapid development from the first successful kidney transplant, culminating in the incredible feat of transplanting a heart from one body to another.
1954 – Kidney Transplant
On December 23, the first successful living-related kidney transplant led by Dr. Joseph Murray and Dr. David Hume took place at Brigham Hospital in Boston. A kidney was transplanted from Ronald Herrick into his identical twin, Richard.
Almost 8 years later only was the first successful kidney transplant from a deceased donor performed.
1963 – Lung Transplant
Dr. James Hardy performed the first human lung transplant in 1963 in Jackson. Although the transplant was successful, the recipient of the left lung transplant survived only 18 days. From 1963-1978, multiple attempts at lung transplantation failed because of rejection and problems with anastomotic bronchial and tracheal healing.
Only In 1983, Dr. Joel Cooper and his colleagues at the University of Toronto achieve the first successful long-term outcome in lung transplantation.
1966 – Pancreas & kidney Transplant
Dr. Richard Lillehei and Dr. William Kelly at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, performed a pancreas and kidney transplant on a 28 year old woman who was diagnosed with diabetes at age 9.
Often when the pancreas is not working properly, the kidney is put under strain and it is quite common for patients with diabetes to require a simultaneous pancreas/kidney transplant.
1967 – Liver Transplant
Thomas E. Starzl, MD, PhD, is known to most as the “Father of Transplantation”, performed the world’s first human liver transplant in 1963 and the first successful liver transplant in 1967 both at the University of Colorado.
1967 – Heart Transplant
The first successful heart transplant led by Dr. Christiaan Barnard was performed at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Although the operation was successful, 18 days later the patient died from double pneumonia. The new heart had functioned normally until his death. This accomplishment spurred on surgeons from all over the world to attempt the experimental operation with little success.
Dr. Christiaan Barnard was not discouraged by the death of his first heart transplant patient and between December 1967 and November 1974 he continued to perform his heart transplant technique. Of the 10 heart transplants, four lived for more than 18 months, two of whom became long-term survivors. Dorothy Fisher lived for over 13 years and Dirk van Zyl lived for over 23 years. As other surgeons understood and implemented Dr Barnard’s technique and with the improvement of immunosuppressive drugs which prevent the rejection of transplanted organs, success in heart transplants and all other organ transplants increased significantly.
2017 will be the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant, what does the future hold for transplantation? Will it be organs grown in a lab? Will it be attaching a head to a new body? We can only wait and see.