The World's First Kidney Transplant

Updated: Mar 8

March is National Kidney Month, a time to raise awareness about kidney disease and how to take better care of your kidneys and your health if you have kidney disease.


The kidneys are of a pair of organs in your abdomen (belly). The kidneys remove waste and extra water from the blood (as urine or pee) and help keep chemicals balanced in the body. The kidneys also make hormones that help control blood pressure and cause bone marrow to make red blood cells.


Richard M. Lawler was a doctor who won the Nobel Prize for doing the first successful kidney transplant in 1950. A Nobel Prize is one of a set of prizes that are awarded each year to people who have done important work in science, literature, economics, or for world peace.

A kidney transplant is a surgery to take a healthy kidney from a living or dead person and place it into a person whose kidneys no longer work the way they are supposed to.


The patient who got the kidney transplant was Ruth Tucker, a 49-year-old woman with polycystic kidney disease (PKD).

PKD is an inherited disorder, which means it is passed from parent to child. Clusters of cysts grow in the kidneys and make the kidneys become larger than normal and make them stop working properly over time. Cysts are round sacs filled with fluid that do not have cancer in them. The cysts can be different sizes, and they can grow very large.


After five weeks of waiting at the hospital for a kidney, Ruth Tucker finally received one from someone who had died. At that time, choosing an organ for transplant was done by finding someone of the same gender (male or female), blood type, and about the same age and physical size.


Dr. Lawler invented the kidney transplant surgery by doing a few organ transplants in dogs and used what he had learned to transplant the new kidneys in Ruth Tucker. Dr. James West and Dr. Raymond Murphy also helped with the surgery.

Many doctors praise Dr. Lawler for his discovery because it led to all other organ transplants being done today.