Pamela and Patrick, parents of Alanna (donor) and Ryan (recipient), with their transplant surgeon, Dr. Craig Lillehei, at Boston Children's Hospital last year.

Dr. Joseph Murray, who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1990 for his contributions to the field of human organ transplantation, passed away on November 26, 2012. He was 93 years old. A gifted surgeon, brilliant scientist, and devoted teacher, Dr. Murray and his team completed the first successful human organ transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in 1954, helping to forge the path for a new field in medicine that has since saved countless lives. Dr. Murray’s work has special meaning for a member of the BWH Marketing team, who shared her story.

When I first starting working at BWH, I was on my way to a meeting when I came across the display about Dr. Joseph E. Murray. I’d long been aware of his pioneering work in kidney transplants, but standing there reading about it and seeing his Nobel  medal in person was quite a moving experience for me.

As the mother of a child born with kidney disease, I am all too familiar with kidney failure, dialysis, and organ transplantation. When my son was just ten days old, we were told that Ryan would need a kidney transplant by the time he was four or five years old. In the mid-70s, this news felt like a death sentence was being levied on him and on us.

The first years were hard, but then we got lucky, passing one birthday after another – all the while in a steady, slow decline – but we made it well past the initial timeline. Ryan’s kidneys finally stopped working when he was 17. His sister, Alanna, gave him and our family the gift of life in what can only be described as the most selfless act of kindness I’ve ever experienced.

The transplant surgery was performed at Boston Children’s Hospital, and this week we celebrate 21 years of life with our kidney transplant. Alanna and Ryan have since married and each now have two beautiful and healthy children of their own. And Ryan is followed by BWH physician Dr. Edgar Milford, who monitors his anti-rejection medications and overall post-transplantation health.

None of this would have been possible had it not been for Dr. Murray. So thank you, Dr. Murray, for your vision and dedication, for all of the protocols you developed and the surgeons you trained, for the anti-rejection drugs you helped pioneer, and to all of those patients and their families who gave of themselves while this was being developed.

And thank you, Dr. Murray, for giving my son, my family, and hundreds of thousands of other families the gift of seeing their loved ones grow and thrive.

– Pamela S

Learn more about Dr. Murray’s legacy and Transplantation Services at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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