How It All Started: The History of Donation

Organ and Tissue Donation has come a long way.

Modern technology has gifted us with all kinds of resources to help save lives through organ donation, but have you ever wondered how it all began? Below are some key points that highlight some of the most important milestones and achievements in the history of organ & tissue donation.

* Some of the first recorded attempts at bone transplantation actually date back to the Middle Ages, but as you can imagine, this field of medicine was far from sophisticated at the time. Needless to say, those first patients (and doctors) were some brave souls!

* In the late 19th century – 1869 to be exact – the first successful skin transplant was performed by the renowned Swiss surgeon Jacques-Louis Reverdin. His breakthrough work paved the way for the first successful skin graft, which was performed in Denmark in 1870.

* In the middle of the 20th century, real progress in the science of solid organ transplantation really began to emerge. A major milestone occurred in 1954 when the first successful kidney transplant (from one identical twin to another) was performed by Dr. Joseph E. Murray in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Murray would go on to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1990.

* In 1959 and 1960 respectively, the first successful kidney transplants were performed between fraternal twins, and then between siblings who were not twins.

* 1967 was a banner year for organ transplantation, as it saw the first successful liver transplant as well as the first ever human-to-human heart transplant. The liver transplant was performed by Dr. Thomas Starzl, who is widely considered to be a pioneer in the field of kidney and liver transplantation. The heart transplant was performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard, a renowned South African cardiac surgeon.

* 1968 also saw several important developments take place, including the first successful pancreas transplant, as well as the formation of the Southeast Organ Procurement Foundation (SEOPF), an organization for transplant professionals.

* In 1977, the SEOPF introduced the first computer-assisted organ matching system, which would come to be known as the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

* One of the biggest breakthroughs in transplantation medicine emerged in 1978 with the introduction of Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressive drug that was designed to help prevent the rejection of new organs in transplant patients. Other drugs have been developed from that time that are even more effective in neutralizing the rejection process, while leaving the critical functions of the immune system intact.

* In 1981, the first ever combination heart-lung transplant was performed under the direction of Dr. Bruce Reitz, a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon.

* In 1983, the first successful single-lung transplant was performed by Dr. Joel Cooper. In that same year, Congress introduced Senate Joint Resolution 78, giving birth to National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week.

* In 1986, the first successful double-lung transplant was performed, again by Dr. Joel Cooper.
* In 1989 alone, 200,000 tissue transplants were performed in the United States.

* The mid-1990s saw quite a bit of progress in terms of establishing standards for organ procurement. In 1998, the first ever successful hand transplant was performed in France, and then in the U.S. in 1999.

* 2001 was the first year ever where the number of living organ donors surpassed the number of deceased donors in the United States.

* In 2002, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) introduced an online portal that provides real-time data detailing the number of people in the United States who are waiting for organ transplants.

* In 2005, the first successful partial face transplant was performed in France, followed by the first successful full face transplant in Spain in 2010.

* In 2014, Vascularized Composite Allographs (VCAs) were added to the expanded definition of organs that are covered by federal regulation and legislation.

As you can see, the science of organ transplantation and donation has enjoyed a rich history of innovation and progress that continues to this day. Let’s hear it for many more amazing milestones and achievements in the future!