On May 25, 1968, surgeons in Richmond, Virginia, performed a successful operation heart transplant, one of the first in the world, into a white businessman. The heart they used was taken from a black patient named Bruce Tucker, who was taken to the hospital the day before, unconscious and with a cracked skull and traumatic brain injury. He was reported brain dead less than 24 hours later.
Tucker’s still beating heart was later removed without his family’s knowledge or prior permission; Their appalling finding – from the local funeral home director – that Tucker’s heart went missing was a devastating blow.
The actions of surgeons, which lead to America̵7;s first civil action against the false death, come to light in the new book “Organ Thief: The shocking story of the first heart transplant in the isolated South“(Simon and Schuster, 2020) by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Charles” Chip “Jones. Jones raises troubling questions about the ethics of this pioneering transplant, suggesting its deep roots are racism and discrimination against blacks in the health care sector.
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The first human organ transplant, a kidney, took place in 1954, and in the late 1960s, “superstar” surgeons were competing to be the first to successfully transplant a fruit. human heart, Jones told Live Science.
“Scientifically, it’s a parallel between medicine and the space race,” said Jones.
Dr. Richard Lower and Dr. David Hume, surgeons at the Virginia Medical University (MCV) in Richmond, have been at the forefront of that race, but it was South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard who did. showing her first heart transplant in December 3, 1967. In May 1968, MCV admitted to his hospital a serious patient. Coronary artery disease is a promising candidate for a heart transplant. But Lower and Hume have yet to find a viable heart donor.
And with time running out of patients, they need it quickly.
Tucker, a Richmond factory worker who suffered a serious head injury in a fall, was taken to MCV Hospital on May 24, 1968. Although Tucker’s personal belongings include one of several The concubine of his brother, officials were unable to identify a family member on behalf of the unconscious man. And because the hospital assumes that Tucker is unmarried and has a bit of alcohol (he drank alcohol before the accident), he is considered a “charity patient” and marked as a heart donor. potential.
“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Jones.
Tucker is connected to the ventilator, unable to breathe on his own. A grassroots medical examiner performed an electroencephalogram (EEG) to determine electrical activity in Tucker brain; The examiner stated that there was no. Surgeons claim this is sufficient evidence about brain dead; Tucker was taken out of the ventilator, and Hume and Lower took Tucker’s heart for a transplant, Jones wrote.
Related: What happens to your body when you are an organ donor?
Decades later, in 1981, Act uniform determination of death has given a legitimate definition of death: “irreversible discontinuation of circulatory and pulmonary functions” and “irreversible discontinuation of all functions of the entire brain”, meaning whole brain – including brain stem – deactivated, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
But in 1968, the legal concept of death was not clearly defined, says Jones.
“There is no legal framework that allows doctors to know how to proceed in a situation like this where they have a patient they think has no chance of recovery,” Jones explained. “And in their view, time is of the essence to saving a sick man.” However, doctors were also quick to assume Tucker was outraged and unmarried – a racially motivated judgment, according to Jones.
Related: 9 most interesting transplants
Tucker’s family knows that his heart has been missing from the funeral director; they append what happened from the news (Tucker’s identity was not originally public, writes Jones). Eventually, Tucker’s family will file a civil lawsuit on the false death, brought to trial in 1972. They are represented by lawyer L. Douglas Wilder, who later became the black head of governor. first elected in America.
According to Wilder, Lower “knowingly, wrongly, knowingly and knowingly declare Bruce O. Tucker died before his actual death, in violation of the law, well aware that he is not legally qualified to do so. so.” State law requires family notice and waiting 24 hours before surgery.
“They skipped the procedure that was already done in Virginia because they were so excited to finally have the surgery,” Jones said.
Famous case of Henrietta Lacks presents a similar collision between ethics and racism. Missing, a black woman (also from Virginia), was diagnosed in 1951 with cervical cancer. A doctor collected cells from one of her tumors and then regenerated them indefinitely in a lab; after Lacks’s death, those cells were widely distributed among scientists for years without her family’s knowledge. Called HeLa cell lines, they are used in research leading to cancer treatments and discoveries. polio vaccineBut decades passed before Lacks’ family learned of her medical “immortality”.
In 2013, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reached an agreement with the family to allow future research involving data from HeLa cells; The new process requests an application through a table that includes the Master’s descendants and relatives, Life Sciences previous report.
The injustices that Lacks, Tucker and their families experience, Jones noted, stem from the racism that is ingrained in America’s health infrastructure. In fact, as medical colleges in the US adopted a more pragmatic approach to anatomical research in the 19th century, faculty routinely trained their students in human anatomy by used black bodies stolen from African American cemeteries, Jones writes.
According to Jones, grave theft is technically illegal, but when Blacks are victims, the authorities tend to look the other way. Medical schools will hire a “human body” (also known as a “resurrectionist”) to buy the body; at MCV, the tomb thief is designated as a Black man named Chris Baker, a school janitor who lives in the basement of the university’s Egypt Building.
Most of the country’s medical schools abandoned this racist method of buying in the mid-1800s, but records show it continued in Virginia until at least 1900, Jones said.
“There are reports of bodies being ‘robbed’ from a factory in Virginia, about five blocks from the medical university,” he said.
Jones unexpectedly discovered the reminder of this crime while studying his book, in a mural displayed at the MCV McGlothlin Medical Education Center. Painted between 1937 and 1947 by artist Richmond George Murrill, the mural commemorates the history of the medical college. And it includes a corpse transported from a grave in a wheelbarrow.
“It shows how the legacy of racism lies under people’s noses,” Jones said.
“Organ thief” is available for purchase on August 18; read an excerpt here .
Originally published on Live Science.