William Ashley
(1) Billy Ashley undergoing lymphocyte depletion.
(2) Researchers preparing for the first kidney transplant.

Research and Preparation

Mr. Ashley’s successful organ transplant was the culmination of thousands of hours of anti-rejection research by numerous physicians and scientists at MCSC.

Before coming to MCSC, Dr. Curtis P. Artz was on the faculty of the University of Texas, Galveston. While in Galveston, and later in Charleston, Dr. Artz studied the role that lymphocytes played in transplanted organ rejection. His initial research involved removing impurities from the lymph of uremic patients and returning the purified lymph to the body. It was discovered that during this cleansing process lymphocytes were destroyed and further testing revealed that patients with reduced lymphocyte counts accepted transplants more successfully. Knowledge of the rejection factor was extremely limited at the time of the 1968 operation. However, it was known that lymphocytes had a great deal to do with the rejection or acceptance of foreign matter within the body.

Dr. Artz’s work led his colleagues at MCSC to pursue research into lymphocyte depletion in animals. Drs. C. Thomas Fitts and Charles Graber, along with Research Laboratory supervisor Lloyd L. Martin, studied calves, while at the same time Dr. H. Biemann Othersen, Jr. experimented on rats. Mr. Thomas S. Hargest, III director of Engineering and Development for the Department of Surgery, created tools to assist in the drainage of the lymphocytes in both animals and humans.

About this same time, Medical College Hospital opened a dialysis program that included a clinical hemodialysis unit. This unit removed toxic wastes from the blood of patients for one of two purposes: First, it could be used to stabilize patients in preparation for transplant surgery; second, it could be used to prolong life indefinitely in the absence of a better option.

Once the dialysis program was up and running and once the researchers were able to control the rejection response, the Kidney Transplant and Immunology Team was formed. A scheduled clinical kidney transplant followed.

Because of lymphocytes significant role in rejection of transplanted organs, the Transplant Team devoted its pre-surgery research time in identifying ways to address the lymphocyte problem. After many months of laboratory work to perfect the operational technique and compiling enough evidence to indicate the ability to deplete these lymphocytes enough to lessen the rejection process the operation date was set.

The Kidney Transplant and Immunology Team consisted of Drs. C. Thomas Fitts, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Fletcher C. Derrick, Jr. Assistant Professor of Urology, James S. Harvin, Chief of Plastic Surgery, Lloyd L. Martin, Supervisor of the Department of Surgery Research Laboratory, H. Biemann Othersen, Jr., Assistant Professor of Surgery (Pediatric Surgery), Arthur V. Williams, Chief of the Renal Section of the Department of Medicine, Charles Graber, Associate Professor of Microbiology, and Thomas S. Hargest, III, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Bio-engineering.