Pioneers of kidney transplant operations reunited

Kidney transplant recipient Ruth Wright with the donor, her father Mervyn Moorhead and surgeon Dr Stanley Rosen

Kidney transplant recipient Ruth Wright with the donor, her father Mervyn Moorhead and surgeon Dr Stanley Rosen

First published in News
Last updated

A TRANSPLANT patient who became one of the first children to receive a new kidney has had a poignant reunion with the surgeon who carried out the pioneering procedure nearly 40 years ago.

Ruth Moorehead suffered her first kidney failure in 1969 and by the age of 13 faced spending the rest of her life hooked up for ten hours to a dialysis machine at her home in Hempland Drive, York.

She was on the brink of death when doctors offered her a transplant if a donor could be found - and her dad Mervyn a York youth worker who ran the former Catacombs coffee bar in St Sampson's, said "yes".

Four years later, in January 1976, the teenager made headlines when she became the first child patient at St James' Hospital, Leeds, to undergo a transplant operation using a live donor.

Mervyn is now a sprightly 87-year-old and Ruth went on to become a nursery supervisor in Kent and later moved to Germany.

She returned to York in 1988 to wed Army Signalman Norman Wright.

Now Mrs Wright , her father, and her mother Beryl, have been reunited with Dr Stanley Rosen, Ruth's surgeon, who flew in from California for a a special event organised by the hospital’s renal transplant team.

The family, who now live in Plymouth, brought with them scrapbooks full of press cuttings, letters and keepsakes of Ruth’s life-changing treatment

They were also joined by a former nurse on the unit who cared for Ruth, Fred Gungaram.

Dr Rosen founded the Renal Unit at St James’s back in 1967 and was the first consultant nephrologist in the country.

He said it was an “immense pleasure” to meet former patients after so many years, and looked back at the early pioneering years of the unit, when kidneys had to be rushed to St James’s in a police car - with no method of keeping them fresh.

Renal transplantation really got going at St James’s in the 1970s, and the hospital still has four patients alive who have had a transplanted kidney for over 40 years – believed to be a record for any hospital worldwide

Also at the celebration, held during National Transplant Week, were more recent kidney patients donor families, and many recent live donors, who received thank you certificates.

The Chief Executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals, Julian Hartley, paid tribute to the remarkable track record of transplant surgery in Leeds, including the liver team as well as their renal colleagues.

He said: “We have the largest unit in the UK with some fantastic outcomes for our patients thanks to great teamwork and a very sensitive approach.

“I’d like to say a big thank you to our staff as well as the patient, families and our donors who have made all this possible.”


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