All libraries will be closed Thursday, July 4th for Independence Day.


Posted about 3 years ago by Meldon Jenkins-Jones

Great strides in medical history have often been made as a result of research and experimentation, and the first human successes were arguably the result of successful experiments, often on animals.  As recently as October 2017, an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch stated, “Researchers at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond have induced heart attacks in dogs, surgically implanted pacemakers into them and trained them to run on treadmills, all in the name of studying heart health in humans.”,_Kopftransplantation_durch_Physiologen_Demichow.jpg

Indeed, the surgeon who performed the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant in December 1967, Dr. Christiaan Neethling Barnard, had practiced on dogs for years and was inspired by Vladimir P. Demikhov who performed dog head transplants, among other impressive medical accomplishments. It is quite common for years of experiments on animals and humans to lead to medical breakthroughs.

Less than a year after Dr. Barnard’s accomplishment, doctors at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) performed the first heart transplant in Virginia. As with many organ transplants, there were ethical questions, such as, if the donor were dead, how could one be sure? What is the clinical evidence of death? In the case of Dr. Barnard’s transplant, he made sure that the young brain-dead donor, Denise Darvall, was dead. Referring to Every Second Counts: The Race to Transplant the First Human Heart by Donald McRae (2006), Wikipedia states, “Prior to the transplant, rather than wait for Darvall’s heart to stop beating, at his brother Marius Barnard’s urging, Christiaan had injected potassium into her heart to paralyse it and render her technically dead by the whole-body standard.”

In the first Virginia heart transplant, it appears that the victim, Bruce Tucker, was unconscious from a head injury. Ms. Darvall’s father had given consent to her operation, but Tucker’s family was not even aware that he was in the hospital. Citing “the long history of mistreatment of African Americans in Virginia’s medical community,” Chip Jones has written a recent book about the Tucker heart transplant in The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South.

Join us in a virtual discussion of this important book concerning the law, civil rights, and social justice on Monday, May 10th at 6:30 pm during the bi-monthly meeting of the Oliver W. Hill Book Club. We will be joined by the author, Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Chip Jones. For more information and to REGISTER:

In January 1968, Dr. Barnard performed a second heart transplant. This time the donor was a young, 24-year-old black man who suffered a stroke, Clive Haupt. This operation also provoked controversy in the African-American press during the time of South African apartheid.  

Other books touching on the topic of medical injustice are:

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers by Scott Carney

The Racial Divide in American Medicine: Black Physicians and the Struggle for Justice in Health Care by Richard D. deShazo

Human Embryo Experimentation, Roman Espejo, Book Editor

Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice by Andrea Freeman

Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America by Allen M. Hornblum, Judith L. Newman, and Gregory J. Dober

Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care by Dayna Bowen Matthew

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington


Meldon Jenkins-Jones

Meldon Jenkins-Jones, Hull Street Library/Community Services Manager, had been the Law Librarian of the Richmond Public Law Library from 2013 thru July 2022. She is the first recipient of the Virginia Library Association's Librarian of Color Forum Award in 2021. She is a Graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond, Class of 2022. She received her Master of Science degree in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University. Meldon spends her free time with family and writing inspirational stories and her memoirs.

Recent Posts


Write Your Comment