For the most part, everyone wants to be healthy. People want to be of sound mind, choose their lives path, and have the physical faculties to accomplish anything they set off to do – and for the most part, this is exactly what happens. However, sometimes the unavoidable happens and people get sick, and depending on the severity, this can significantly impact what lays ahead. However, in 1954, something happened that would lead to a revolution and a new lease on life for many dire patients.
In 1954, the first successful organ transplant took place; a kidney, which was taken from Ronald Herrick and given to his identical twin, Richard. While this event is significant and certainly turned a new chapter in medicine, it was what happened 13 years later that really has the medical community in awe.
The year was 1967 when then 6-year-old Tommy Hoag became the first Children’s Hospital Los Angeles patient to undergo a kidney transplant after a bout with scarlet fever left his kidneys glomerulonephritis, a disease that damages their ability to filter waste and fluids from the blood. It was decided by a team of doctors that the only way to save the boy’s life was through a renal transplant, and luckily, Tommy’s father William was found to be a match.
“I remember being wheeled into the operating room and [my father] was already there and he was happy to see me,” said Hoag, who is now 56 and living in Las Vegas (the family lived in the Reseda at the time of the transplant). “My dad was a baseball fan, a die-hard Dodgers fan and also a Babe Ruth fan. When he saw me, he said, ‘Come on in, Bambino! Let’s get this done!’ ”
While today an organ transplant is usually not something that is newsworthy, what makes this case interesting is that through Tommy’s father’s gift of life, Tommy has achieved a notable record: if not the longest, then one of the longest functioning live donor kidneys to be given to a child in U.S. history.
“The success of Tommy’s transplant really jump-started the nephrology program here at Children’s Hospital,” said Carl Grushkin, CHLA’s current chief of nephrology and professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, who was a resident in 1967 when Hoag’s surgery took place.
“Seeing Tommy here today, seeing how well he’s done for such a long period of time, I think, is one of the highlights of my career,” said Fine, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine. Fine said medical literature in the 1960s discouraged pediatric dialysis and renal transplantation, but he believed it was the only option to save the boy’s life.
And what does Tommy have to say about this momentous medical moment? “It comes up every now and then that I get asked about being a ‘pioneer,’ ” Hoag said. “It’s not something I tried to get the record on, it’s just something that was obviously meant to be. And it’s worked out well for me and so many others.”