Renowned surgeon and pioneer in organ transplants, Samuel Lee Kountz was born on August 20, 1930 to Samuel Kountz, Sr. and Emma Montague. He was raised in the town of Lexa, one of the most impoverished areas of Arkansas. Without a doctor in the town, Kountz’s father often assumed the role of nurse and his mother was a midwife. Their work sparked Kountz’s desire to become a physician.
Kountz worked his way through high school despite scarce educational resources. He then attended Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) and graduated with a B.S. in 1952. He received a M.S. in biochemistry from the University of Arkansas and then became the first African American admitted into the medical school there, from which graduated in 1958. That same year he married Grace Akin. The couple had three children.
During his residency at Stanford University School of Medicine, Kountz focused on surgery, becoming particularly interested in kidney transplants. Up until 1960 such transplants were impossible unless the donor and recipient were twins. Transplants between those more distantly related or unrelated ended in rejection by the transplant recipient.
In 1961 Kountz and Roy Cohn, another leading surgeon, preformed the first successful kidney transplant between two people who were close relatives but not twins. Over the next decade Kountz researched the process of kidney transplants on dogs. He discovered that monitoring blood flow into the new kidney and administering methylprednisolone to the patient after surgery allowed the body to accept the new organ.
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