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Joseph E. Murray
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    (April 1, 1919-November 26, 2012)
    Born in Milford, Massachusetts
    Plastic surgeon and organ transplant pioneer
    Performed the first successful kidney transplant (December 23, 1954) on identical twins Ronald Herrick (the donor) and Richard Herrick (the recipient)
    Performed the first successful kidney transplant between fraternal twins (1959)
    Performed the first successful kidney transplant from a deceased donor to a living recipient (1962)
    Received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in organ transplantation (1990)
    He recalled, ‘Some of my closest friends at the medical school faculty advised me not to get involved [with organ transplants] because they said it would ruin my career.’
    He initially hoped to avoid the glare of publicity for the first kidney transplant operation. But one of the tests the hospital performed to ensure that the Herrick twins really were identical twins required having them fingerprinted at a Roxbury police station, which led to crime reporters breaking the story.
    Before immunosuppressive drugs became available, he tried using radiation to weaken the immune system of organ recipients. Unfortunately, the effects of the radiation were usually debilitating enough to kill the patient.
    When immunosuppressive drugs did become available, his first three patients died due to problems in calculating the proper drug dosage.
    Given how poorly the early transplants on non-identical twins went, critics argued that he was subjecting the donors to the risks of surgery for no good reason.
    He died at the same hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he had performed the first successful kidney transplant.
    He was married to Virginia Link for 67 years until his death.
    He served with the Army Medical Corps for three years (1944-47), performing reconstructive surgery on disfigured soldiers.
    He climbed the Matterhorn in the Alps in his 50s.
    He noted about the earliest transplant efforts, ‘The families knew that we were experimenting. And even though they didn’t expect success, they said, ‘It may not help us but it may help someone in the future.’ It gave me an indication of the wonderful generosity of human nature.’
    He considered himself primarily a plastic surgeon, prompting a colleague to quip, ‘Joe’s the only guy to win a Nobel Prize for pursuing a hobby.’
    His son Richard said, ‘He loved the word ‘curious.’ He would always say, ‘Be curious. Ask questions. Learn.’

Credit: C. Fishel

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