Pioneering Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Joseph Murray, dies at 93

Posted on December 5, 2012 | by

Massachusetts native, pioneering plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and Nobel laureate in medicine, Dr. Joseph E. Murray, 93, died on November 26, 2012.

Dr. Murray is credited with the world’s first successful organ transplant in 1954. He passed due to a hemorrhagic stroke in the same Boston hospital where that pioneering surgery occurred.

It’s safe to say that without Dr. Murray, medicine would be in a very different place than it is today. His storied career includes the first transplant operation between non-identical twins and from a cadaver, the 1990 Nobel Prize in Medicine, and working with scientists on creating the drugs that would prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs.

Dr. Murray’s Work As A Plastic And Reconstructive Surgeon

Dr. Murray concentrated on plastic surgery, mainly toward the end of his career. However, he developed ways to repair inborn facial defects that afflicted children. From 1972 to 1985, he led the plastic surgery division at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in addition to his four decades of being head of plastic surgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston.

His career as a plastic surgeon has its foundation in Dr. Murray’s service in the Army Medical Corps to reconstruct the hands and faces of wounded soldiers coming back from World War II. He worked for three years, starting in 1944, at the Valley Forge General Hospital outside of Philadelphia.

According to the source, he told Time Magazine: “We took care of thousands of casualties, many with severe burns. I was performing skin grafts and became interested in why skin wouldn’t graft permanently.”

Pioneering Organ Transplantation

Dr. Murray’s work in the Army helped to formulate a central theory that would inform the rest of his work in transplant operations. He thought that if the immune system could be manipulated somehow, the chances of transplants being successful would increase.

After his discharge from the Army, Murray returned to work at Brigham Hospital, in Boston, as a plastic surgeon and perfected the surgical technique needed for implanting a kidney.

On Dec. 23, 1954, Richard Herrick, who was suffering from kidney disease, received a new kidney from his twin Ronald. According to the source, at 11:15 AM of that day, Dr. Murray became the first surgeon to complete an organ transplant from a twin sibling.