Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Samuel Kountz, Jr (1930-1951) was a medical pioneer and trailblazer in the area organ transplants. Dr. Kountz and Dr. Roy Cohn conducted the first successful kidney transplant where the donor and recipient were close relatives but not twins in 1961.
Dr. Samuel L. Kountz, Jr was born and raised in Arkansas. His mother was a midwife and his father was a minister. Kountz attended Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). He initially failed the entrance exam but appealed to the university for admittance. The president was so impressed by him that he was granted admission. He graduated with a B.S. degree in 1952 and received his masters degree in bio chemistry from the University of Arkansas in 1958. He was the first African American to be admitted to medical school there. He also married Grace Akin in 1958. They had 3 children. Kountz completed his residency at Stanford University School of Medicine. During this time he became very interested in kidney transplants. Until 1960 these types of transplants were not possible unless the donor and the recipient were twins. Transplants between individuals who were more distant relatives would result in the organ being rejected by the transplant recipient.
Through his research, he determined that it was critical to monitor blood flow into the new kidney as well as the importance of administering methylpredisolone to the transplant recipient following surgery. This facilitated the body’s acceptance of the new organ. In 1967, Dr. Kountz became the chief of the kidney transplant service for the University of California at San Francisco. There he partnered with Folker Belzer to develop the Belzer Kidney Perfusion Machine which kept kidneys alive for 50 hours after removal from a donor. Through Kountz’s leadership, UCSF became a leading kidney transplant research center in the United States. In January 1976, Dr. Kountz made history when he and his medical team completed a successful kidney transplant on a 3 month old girl, Alexandra Kelly.
She was the world’s youngest and smallest transplant patient at the time. In 1976, Kountz also conducted a live kidney transplant on the Today Show of NBC. This resulted in 20,000 people inquiring with offers to become kidney donors. Kountz would perform over 500 kidney transplants during his lifetime; which, at the time was more than any other physician.
The work of Dr. Kountz has made kidney transplants a fairly routine medical procedure. Kountz traveled extensively to share his knowledge around the world. While teaching in South Africa in 1977, he contracted an undisclosed disease which caused him serious physical and mental impairment from which he would never fully recover. He died in 1981 at his home in Kings Point, NY at age 51.