The first human kidney transplantation, one of the seminal events of medical history, occurred on December 23, 1954. After several years of research, including successful kidney transplantations in dogs, the transplantation team at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, MA, was searching for a way to apply their technique to humans. On October 26, 1954, Richard Herrick was admitted to the Brigham with chronic nephritis, and it soon became evident that he was going to die. Richard's twin brother and best friend, Ronald, agreed to give one of his healthy kidneys to his brother. Extensive testing was carried out, including a successful skin graft from Ronald to Richard and fingerprinting of the brothers at a local police station. The latter test led to a news leak and daily requests for information from the press.
Consultations followed with experienced physicians inside and outside the Brigham, clergy of all denominations, and legal counsel. The transplantation team, led by Joseph E. Murray, a plastic surgeon, and including John Merrill (nephrologist), J. Hartwell Harrison (urologist), and Gustave Dammin (pathologist), as well as a psychiatrist, met several times with the Herrick family. It was only then that the transplantation team was comfortable in offering the option of a transplantation to Richard, Ronald, and, by extension, the Herrick family.
Richard had reached the final stage of his disease. First, the surgeons wanted to do a test run. They needed an appropriate cadaver on which to do the surgery to be certain the kidney would fit in its new site. On December 20), a cold and snowy day, a suitable subject became available and the test surgery was successful. The Herrick operation was scheduled for 3 days later.
On December 23, with intense media attention, the surgery began in two operating rooms. While Murray prepared the transplant site, Harrison was isolating one of Ronald's kidneys. At 9:50 A.M., Murray gave Harrison the go‑ahead to sever the blood supply to the donor kidney. Francis D. Moore, chair of the Department of Surgery. carried the severed kidney into the room at 9:53. One hour and twenty‑five minutes later, the vascular anastomoses to Richard's new kidney were complete. There was a hush in the room as the clamps were removed, followed by grins as the donor kidney turned pink and urine began to flow briskly.
Richard thrived and married his recovery nurse. They had two children. However, Richard died in 1962 from a recurrence of his original kidney disease in the transplanted kidney. Murray received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990.
This historic surgery opened the immense field of transplantation surgery. The event is memorialized in this painting, which recreates the events of December 23. The painting hangs in the main lobby of the Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School on a wall directly opposite Hinckley's famous painting, Ether Day (AJR 1995:165:560).
Joel Babb (1947‑ ) is a graduate of Princeton and the Boston Museum School, where he taught for several years. He has also taught at Tufts and Harvard universities. In discussing his work, Babb states that "the study of art history and the influence of Rome and the classical tradition were the sources of the desire to set aside modernism and ground a study of painting on earlier models" (personal communication). His 1970 landscapes and views of Boston were "based on drawings and developed in a technique related to Baroque landscapes" (personal communication). He is perhaps best known for a series of realistic, topographically accurate cityscapes of Boston, which are in prestigious collections throughout the Boston area In the late 1980s, he began a series of large landscapes of the Maine woods that have recently been exhibited at the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, ME. His paintings have been exhibited in many museums and galleries throughout the Northeast and are in numerous prestigious corporate collections and several museums, including the Fogg Museum of Harvard University.
He has recently completed a portrait, which will also hang in the Countway Library, of the famed cardiologist Paul Zoll. Babb indicates that "the transplant painting was pure excitement and stimulation throughout" and that "the subject itself has a Promethean grandeur that the painting barely reflects" (personal communication).
Joel Babb (1947‑). The First Successful Kidney Transplantation, 1996. Oil on canvas, 70x88 inches, Harvard
-American Journal of Roentgenology, 2003