A plastic surgery giant, Dr. Joseph Murray, passes away

A moment of silence for the man who won a well-deserved Nobel prize for performing the very first kidney transplant, the renowned plastic surgeon Joseph Murray, MD, who passed away Monday, Nov. 26, after suffering a stroke at his home in Boston on Thanksgiving Day. He was 93.

Dr. Murray performed the world’s first organ transplant in December 1954. The recipient was 23-year-old Richard Herrick, who received a functional kidney from his twin brother, Ronald. Since that time, more than 600,000 people have received life-saving organ transplants as a result of Dr. Murray’s groundbreaking work, for which he awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990.

“Kidney transplants seem so routine now,” Dr. Murray told The New York Times after he won the Nobel. “But the first one was like Lindbergh’s flight across the ocean.”

Most non-surgeons don’t realize that the field of organ transplantation grew out of the pioneering work of skin grafting, allowing plastic surgeons to study the immunology and rejection of transplanted tissue.  “I consider myself a plastic reconstructive surgeon,” Dr. Murray said in 2006. “Transplantation was merely a side issue and it really is a form of reconstruction. I never considered it competitive. They’re both the same – taking care of patients.”

Dr. Murray’s interest in reconstructive surgery was sparked primarily as a means of treating children with deformities, but he also enjoyed doing purely cosmetic surgery.

Dr. Murray’s surgical DNA could also be traced to the first partial face transplant, which was performed in 2005 on Isabelle Dinoire in Amiens, France.

“The surgeon who did that face transplant (Jean-Michel “Max” Dubernard, MD) was one of my former research Fellows,” Dr. Murray told PSN. “They’ve done a great job on a partial facial transplant. It’s been a great success.”

Dr. Murray also focused on developing treatments for congenital facial deformities in children, and he served as chair of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and president of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons. He was also a professor of surgery at Harvard.

Perhaps more than anything, Dr. Murray simply enjoyed caring for people.

“Each person is intrinsically valuable. Whether you’re repairing a small blemish of the cheek or a major facial reconstruction, for the patient, it’s 100 percent,” Dr. Murray said. “You’re putting them back into the mainstream – improving the quality of their life.

“Life goes on, and it’s a very rich life, but it’s all one theme: taking care of patients,” he said.

(condensed from a report in Plastic Surgery News)

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