5 Things You Didn't Know About Organ Donation

On December 3, 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa.  To honor of this anniversary, here are five facts about the history and the current practice of organ donation...


Skin Was the First Organ to Be Transplanted The skin is the largest organ in the body and was also the first organ to be transplanted. Doctors in India were discovered to have been using skin grafts to make surgical repairs for centuries. In fact, the first nose job, called rhinoplasty, was performed by a physician named Sushruta back around 500 BCE by removing skin from a patient’s forehead and moving it onto the nose in the first cosmetic surgery.

Animal Organs Were Once Used as Transplants Blood from animals was used in the 17th century to transfuse into humans, and animal skin was popular to perform transplants during the 19th century. The skin of frogs was preferred at the time, but during the 20th century, parts belonging to dogs, rabbits, pigs, and additional animals were used. None of the transplant patients lived for long following these surgeries, likely because the medical community did not fully understand the reasons for organ rejection at the time.


A Corneal Transplant Was First Performed in 1905 In 1905, the first corneal transplant was undertaken by Eduard Zirm, an ophthalmologist in Austria. The ophthalmologist used corneas from a deceased child on a 45-year-old farm-worker who had lost his eyesight because of an accident. Techniques developed from Dr. Zirm’s original procedure are still used by ophthalmologists today.

The Largest Known Chain of Organ Donations Involved 60 People In 2012, Rick Ruzzamenti, who was a California electrician, decided to donate one of his kidneys to an individual who needed it, and it was transplanted into a New Jersey man who didn’t have a match in his own family. The family of the New Jersey man decided this was such a wonderful thing to do that they would do the same and began a donor chain that continued for about four months, involving 11 states and 17 hospitals. The chain finally ended with a Joliet, Illinois, man called Don Terry with the 13th donation.

More Than 50% of Organ Transplants Are Kidneys More than 19,000 kidney transplants happen every year in America, according to the National Kidney Foundation, comprising more than half of all organ donations. After decades of developments, including better immunosuppressive drugs, kidney transplants are one of the most effective transplant procedures being practiced today. And yet, the donation rate only puts a dent in the more than 100,000 people waiting for kidney transplants each year.