Legislature Commemorates Black Donor 50 Years After Va.’S 1St Heart Transplant

In 1968, the Medical College of Virginia conducted the first human-to-human heart transplant in the South without the consent of the donor, Bruce Tucker, an injured Black man, or his family. The heart transplant, led by Dr. Richard Lower and Dr. David Hume, was part of multiple instances of unethical use of Black bodies by medical institutions in Virginia. Last year, a resolution addressing these issues was filed but did not advance due to the Republican-led House Rules Committee. However, the resolution recently passed unanimously in the Senate and House. The Tucker family expressed appreciation for the resolution, hoping it will prevent similar wrongs from happening in the future.

The Tucker family’s second cousin, referred to as a “hidden figure in medical science,” had filed a lawsuit against the surgeons in 1968, but the case ruled in favor of the doctors. The story caught the attention of Phillip Thompson, the former Loudoun County NAACP president, who brought it to the attention of Senator Jennifer Boysko. The family hopes the legislation will encourage Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to take a leading role in addressing the nationwide issue of justice for the medical misuse of Black bodies. VCU has already released a public apology statement and sent a letter to the Tucker family, with the university selecting “The Organ Thieves: The True Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South” as its Common Book in 2022.

Journalist Chip Jones, who discovered the story while working at the Richmond Academy of Medicine, played a crucial role in bringing attention to Mr. Tucker’s case. Jones emphasized that closure for the Tucker family was the most important aspect of his work. VCU’s apology was seen as shallow and hollow by Mr. Tucker’s family, and they hope that the legislation will drive the university to make amends and set an example for other institutions.

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