November 27, 2012

In Memoriam: Joseph E. Murray, M.D.

All transplant professionals, and all who have benefitted from organ transplantation over the last 58 years, owe a debt of gratitude to the life, work and example of Dr. Joseph Murray. His pioneering efforts, not only in transplantation but in plastic and reconstructive surgery, have touched countless lives and will continue to do so long after his passing.

Dr. Murray led the team that performed the first long-term successful human kidney transplant on Dec. 23, 1954. This accomplishment built upon the experiments of many surgical teams. He also played a key role in developing immunosuppressive therapy for transplant recipients.

While Dr. Murray received many accolades for his work, he remained humble about his own role. In accepting the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990, he said, "No one person accomplishes anything alone. The Nobel Prize really belongs to the hospital, to the doctors, nurses, social workers, research fellows, technicians as well as the administrators and granting agencies..." Of the 1954 transplant, he remarked, "We didn't even think of history. We thought we were going to save a patient."

Among the patients he treated was a living donor kidney recipient who survived more than 40 years and was among the first to give birth after a transplant. Dr. Murray’s legacy continues actively in the many clinicians who trained under his mentorship and continue in practice, not only in transplantation but in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Even after Dr. Murray left the practice of transplantation to focus on other clinical and research interests, he remained a lifelong champion of the field. UNOS was especially honored to have him serve in 1999 as honorary co-chair (along with Dr. Michael DeBakey) of a national fundraising campaign supporting UNOS' corporate efforts to enhance transplant education and research.

Since 1954, more than 600,000 organ transplants have been performed in the United States. While every transplant procedure is a collaborative effort and depends upon the life-giving generosity of an organ donor, Dr. Murray and his colleagues were the first to make it possible for so many lives to be saved and enhanced.