Herrick Twins

The Herrick twins (front) with the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital team that performed the first successful organ transplantation: (left to right) Joseph E. Murray, John P. Merrill and J. Hartwell Harrison.

On December 23, 1954, Murray performed the first successful human organ transplantation, between identical twins, Ronald (donor) and Richard (recipient) Herrick. Richard was dying of kidney disease and had been referred to Murray as a possible transplant case. In order to determine that the brothers were in fact identical twins, 17 tests were performed, including fingerprinting at a nearby police station. Reporters at the station discovered what was going on and the press became aware of the situation.

Joseph Murray (third from left), performing the first successful organ transplantation at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, MA, December 23, 1954.

The transplant involved numerous surgical risks, but also raised additional issues, as Murray discussed in a 2011 interview:

This list of potential risks posed an ethical dilemma for us. While we routinely asked patients to incur some risk in order to achieve a benefit for themselves, none of us had ever asked a healthy person to accept this magnitude of risk solely for the sake of someone else. We consulted with experienced physicians within and outside of the Brigham, clergy of all denominations, and legal counsel before offering the option of transplantation. The team met several times with the family to describe in detail what was involved for Ronald and Richard. We advised neither for nor against the operation, and we stated the obvious: We could not know if it would work.

However, the transplant was a success, and Richard Herrick went on to marry one of his nurses from the Brigham and have two children. He survived until 1962, dying of a recurrence of the kidney disease. Ronald Herrick died in 2010 at 79.

Joel Babb (artist, far left), Joseph Murray (second from left), Virginia Murray (third from left), and Francis Moore (fifth from left) standing beside Babb's painting "The First Successful Kidney Transplantation".

The painting "The First Successful Kidney Transplantation" was completed in 1996 by the artist Joel Babb and presented to the Dean of Harvard Medical School. The painting depicts the moment just before Murray and his team were to receive the donor kidney. The painting currently hangs in the 1st floor lobby of the Francis A Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.   

Herrick Twins