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...


Organ Transplants Have Been Around a Lot Longer Than You Think # According to the federal government, more than 30,000 organ transplants have been performed so far in 2018. However, there are more than 114,000 on the waiting list. 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.

The First Face Transplant Was Performed in 2005 # The first recipient of a heart transplant, Louis Washkansky, only lived for 18 days. However, he died of pneumonia, not of heart failure. Image source: WikiCommons The first facial transplant was performed in France in 2005 to repair damage done to a 38-year-old woman by her dog, which had severely damaged her lips, nose, chin, and sections of her cheeks. Material for the transplant came from a woman, 46, who had died. The first facial transplant in the United States was performed in 2011 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston for a man who had been burnt by high-voltage electricity while he was painting a church.


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.

Corneal Transplants Have Been Around for a Long Time 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 farmworker who had lost his eyesight because of an accident. The operation was so successful that techniques used today evolved from the procedure used by Zirm.

More Than 50 Percent of Organ Transplants Are Kidneys There is an enormously long list of people waiting for kidney transplants, and more than 17,000 are performed yearly. The first kidney transplant in the United States was performed in 1954 between a pair of twins, so immunosuppressant drugs were not needed. By then, scientific advances had significantly improved the chances that the recipient would not reject the organ, which increased the odds of survival. After 1954, organ transplantation began in earnest.

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