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(October 20, 1930 - December 23, 1981)
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1967
Kidney Transplant Miracle Worker
Samuel Kountz grew up in Lexa, Arkansas-one of the poorest towns in one of the country's poorest states. But, it was here Kountz first felt the tug toward medicine. He went to the hospital with an injured friend and, seeing how the doctors could take away people's suffering, he was inspired to become a doctor. Despite the long odds, years later he became the first African American to attend the University Of Arkansas Medical School.
His knowledge and dedication allowed him to make remarkable advances in the area of kidney transplantation. The critical event that elevated Kountz, the first black transplant surgeon, to medical celebrity occurred in 1961. He did the unthinkable-he performed the first kidney transplant between a recipient and a donor who were not identical twins! This successful transplant procedure, from a mother to her sick child, sealed his status as a kidney transplant pioneer. Requests to demonstrate and teach his techniques poured in from around the world and, in 1965, he performed the first-ever kidney transplant in Egypt.
Among Kountz's discoveries was the use of methylprednisolone, a hormone steroid, to ward off organ rejection. He found that by administering large doses of methylprednisolone to kidney transplant patients, he could reverse initial signs of organ rejection. He also developed a means to precisely assess the timing and dosage of the anti-rejection medications. This saved many lives-prior to Kountz's procedures, fewer than five percent of kidney transplant recipients survived two years. Even as recently as 1990, 50% of patients experienced acute rejection. Today, thanks to Kountz's pioneering efforts, over 93% of kidney transplant patients are alive over a year later. His discovery also easily translated into use of this drug to treat many other conditions.
One of the most difficult challenges of organ transplantation is keeping the donor organ alive long enough for it to be viable when it reaches the recipient. Kountz tackled this challenge in 1967. Working with Folkert Belzer, Kountz developed a machine that would preserve kidneys for up to 50 hours outside the human body! This lifesaving device, known as the Belzer Kidney Perfusion machine, is used worldwide.
Kountz was known for his dedication to social causes and equality of medical care for the black community. Encouraged by his father, a Baptist minister, he often sat in Emergency rooms to observe how patients were treated, and to consider ways he could help change procedures for the better. He also pioneered public awareness of organ donation and encouraged the public to donate to save lives. In 1976, Kountz performed a live kidney transplant on NBC's Today show-this single event resulted in over 20,000 people offering to donate their kidneys!
Dr. Kountz died in 1981, at just 51 years of age. He had acquired a mysterious neurologic illness, that left him brain damaged and physically disabled, while traveling in South Africa in 1977. Kountz had performed over 500 kidney transplants before he became ill-the most in the world at that time.
Introduction by April Ingram
Table of ContentsIntroduction
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Key Experiment or Research
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Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Key Contributing Scientists
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
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Major Academic Papers
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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture entry on Kountz:
African American Registry profile:
Distinguished African American scientists of the 20th century, by Kessler, entry on Kountz:
The New York Times obituary:
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The Science Behind the Discovery
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