The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South

Gallery: S. & S. Aug. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9781982107529. $28. HIST
Bruce Tucker was spending time with friends after work in Richmond, VA, in May 1968 when he fell off of a wall and suffered a serious head injury. Hours later, his heart was removed and used in one of the country’s earliest heart transplants. Even though his brother worked nearby, the hospital claimed it was unable to locate the patient’s family to ask for permission prior to the transplant. Organ Thieves traces the story of Tucker’s death, the doctors who pronounced him dead and operated, and the lawsuit that challenged their decisions. Jones, a longtime journalist in Virginia, looks at the history of early American medical schools, which often used illegally obtained African American corpses for anatomy classes. Tucker’s story is placed in this tradition, in which the cruelty and indignity of racism continued even after death. Jones also examines early efforts at organ transplantation and the race by doctors, including those at the ambitious Medical College of Virginia, to perform innovative and high-profile transplants.
VERDICT With elements of legal and social history, this work is recommended for readers interested in the history of race and racism, and how it relates to medical practice in the United States.
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