Working for years on the ambitious project, David Hamilton found
it broader than expected. And that is what eventually sent him
searching through the dark and dusty basement shelves of the Royal
Society of Medicine's library in London.
With the long-hidden information, he realized that the history of
organ transplantation was no 20th century phenomenon -- that the
seeds of its history were planted centuries, even millennia, ago,
only to blossom in recent decades.
Human persistence, in fits and starts, setbacks and surges,
represents one of the amazing characteristics of transplantation
Dr. Hamilton's book, "A History of Organ Transplantation: Ancient
Legends to Modern Practice," published by the University of
Pittsburgh Press, includes a forward written by Pittsburgh
transplant pioneer Thomas E. Starzl, director emeritus of the
University of Pittsburgh transplantation center that bears his name,
along with Clyde F. Barker, distinguished service professor and
emeritus professor of surgery at Pitt.
The hardcover 556-page book, the first comprehensive
international history of transplantation, is written for the average
reader without ignoring scientific detail that drew the interest of
Dr. Starzl, the most famous living transplant surgeon and scientist
who made Pittsburgh what Dr. Hamilton described as the center of
"I think it's a fabulous book that's easy to read. I've read it
rather carefully, and I'm more interested in antiquity than the
current era," said Dr. Starzl, a central figure in the modern era
that he detailed in his own 1992 memoir, "The Puzzle People."
The complicated history might intimidate some readers, he said:
"If you take the chapters one by one, they are riveting. It is easy
to get overloaded. But each chapter is a story unto itself.
"I'm very happy that Dr. Hamilton was able to get the job done."
Dr. Hamilton, 73, is a retired transplant surgeon living in St.
Andrews, Scotland, where he's an honorary professor who teaches
medical history at the School of Medicine of the University of St.
Andrews. He also wrote "The Monkey Gland Affair" and "The Healers: A
History of Medicine in Scotland."
He spent 15 years tracking down transplantation history only to
discover how long people have striven to fix medical problems --
damaged or missing skin, lost limbs and fingers and noses, lost
teeth and eventually damaged and diseased organs -- by trying to use
body parts from others, the dead or animals.
From skin grafts and plastic surgery to heart transplants, the
history of organ transplantation is long and complicated with
hideous failures followed by incremental successes that served to
inspire scientists to proceed, often against steady criticism or
claims that transplants were unnatural, unethical or sinful.
Just as science fiction popularizes and inspires scientific
inquiry, ancient folklore is filled with tales of "magical
replacement of lost tissues," including "restoration of limbs or
eyes, and even the replacement of decapitated heads," the book