The First Identical Twin Kidney Transplant

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Richard and Ronald Herrick were born on June 15, 1931. They grew up together on their family farm in Rutland, Massachusetts. The two brothers were about as close as any two brothers could be, for they were identical twins. When the Korean War broke out, they each signed up for military service, with Richard going to the Coast Guard and Ronald into the Army. Their mother had died while they were in high school and their father died during their years in the service.

Richard Becomes Ill

At the close of their military service, Ronald received a letter that Richard was being detained in the Chicago Marine hospital for the treatment of nephritis. When his condition worsened, he was transferred to the Public Health Service Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, so that he could be nearer his family.

The family – Ronald, older brother Van, and sister Virginia – visited Richard in the hospital. Van asked the doctors about donating one of his kidneys to his brother. While doctors felt that this was not an option, they did offer hope for a transplant between Ronald and Richard, as they were identical twins.

The Operation

Richard had reached the final stages in his illness and was close to death. He was combative and cursed the staff and his heart was failing as well. He continued to have psychotic episodes from the uremic toxins coursing through his system. It was felt that he needed to be in the best metabolic condition possible going into the operation. Hemodialysis was instituted. Luckily, the hospital had one of the few rotating drum kidneys available in the country at that time.

The operation was carried out December 23, 1954, at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. Dr. Joseph Murray performed the procedure, which lasted a little over five hours. Ronald Herrick was able to be discharged from the hospital within 14 days of the operation. Richard was discharged from the hospital after 37 days, free of psychosis, with a normal blood pressure and heart function. Because his donor kidney came from his identical twin, no immunosuppressant drugs were needed following the procedure.

Richard went on to marry one of the nurses that cared for him. They were able to have two children. Richard lived for a total of eight years following his kidney transplant.