Do you know that the history of medicine and science in the world today isn’t complete without some names being included? Surprisingly, most of these individuals are blacks. It would be an understatement to say the black scientists, doctors et al contributed little to the evolution of medicine. The prowess and accomplishments of the blacks are so numerous.
Among the names of the great blacks ever lived is Dr. Samuel Lee Kountz, the pioneer kidney transplant surgeon whose name is worth reckoning with. In spite of his humble beginnings living in a poor environment, Kountz worked hard to earn his mark in the medical field.
Kountz was born on August 20, 1930, to Samuel Kountz Sr. and Emma Montague in Lexa, which at the era was one of the most deprived areas in Arkansas. Due to the lack of medical professionals in their home town, Kountz Sr. and Emma would often take up the role of nurse and midwife, which inspired the young Samuel Kountz Jr. to join the medical world.
Dr. Samuel Lee Kountz’s success in the field of medicine fully show the contributions of the Black man to the advancement of humanity and its society. After his high school, Kountz was able to posess three professional diplomas in Agricultural, Mechanical and Chemical engineering respectively. In 1958, he became the first African American to enroll in the University of Arkansas Medical school through a scholarship.
After the completion of his Ph.D in medical science, he went to San Francisco, where he enrolled for medical surgery course. Thereon, he met Dr. Roy Cohn, who happened to be one of the pioneers of organ transplant at the time. In 1961, while working with Dr. Cohn at the Stanford University Medical Center, he performed the first successful transplant between humans who were not identical twins, which was the first successful organ transplant in the world. Before 1964, both had recorded huge success in organ transplant.
In 1967, Kountz became a member of the UCSF faculty as the head of the Kidney Transplant Service. During his tenure at UCSF, Kountz went on to perform numerous kidney transplant surgeries, more effective discoveries, drug techniques, and advocated for increased organ donations and funding for transplant surgery research.
Kountz passion for his work made him work to increase diversity on campus through minority student recruitment and advocated for better care regardless of class or race. He invested in what he called “human aspects” of transplant surgery, including documenting patients’ lives before and after surgery.
Dr. Samuel Kountz continued his study on organ transplant, which made him discover what is known as a breakthrough in medical world. He discovered a steroid called “methylprednisolone”, which effectively reduces the rejection of transplanted organs. His discovery was a huge breakthrough in modern medicine because organ transplant patients recorded high death rates – less than 5% of them lived. This discovery wrote his name in medical history.
In his research, Dr. Kountz also outlined that reimplanting the kidney back to the donor after a rejection by the recipient helps ameliorate vital prognosis. He also invented an improved technique for the preservation of the kidney to be transplanted for over 50 hours after it is harvested.
Because of his discovery, kidneys today can now be transplanted from a non-family member unto the patient. Before his demise, he was able to conduct as many as 500 successful kidney transplants.
He did his best to dispell the fears surrounding the practice. This made him undertake a live transplant in front of television cameras so that people could understand the process. After the live transplant, 20,000 donations where waiting for him the next day.
This made him gain more recognition and became a professor and senior surgeon in hospitals of high reputation in the United States. He was a senior surgeon in Kings County Hospital in New York and played a crucial role in improving the health care of Black people.
Kountz published over 100 research papers on a kidney transplant in modern medicine and also established the biggest kidney transplant research center of America, in San Francisco.
The world was shocked when his death was announced. Dr. Kountz died at the age of 51 on December 23, 1981 in New York, after suffering from a neurological illness in 1977. The illness disabled him both mentally and physically, so he was bedridden and unable to move till his death.
His studies and research work in the field of organ-transplant have saved many lives and have revolutionized the field of transplant in modern medicine. Today organ transplant rejection is less likely because of his enormous contribution to the use of steroids in the process of transplant.
He was a beneficiary of exclusive awards. Also, a scholarship for African-Americans was named after him by the NAACP, which is a black body dedicated to the betterment of blacks in America.