Samuel Lee Kountz, Jr. was born August 20, 1930, in Lexa, Arkansas. He was born to Samuel Kountz, Sr. and Emma Montague. Lexa was a severely impoverished town with no doctor in the immediate area. His father often acted as the town’s nurse and his mother was often a midwife. Admiring his parents’ line of work, he was inspired to become a physician.
Throughout high school, Kountz maintained a job. He had extremely limited access to educational resources but prevailed nonetheless. Upon graduating high school, he attended Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (the modern-day University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). He graduated with his B.S. in 1952.
Kountz then went on to earn his M.S. in biochemistry from the University of Arkansas. He was the first Black student admitted into the school’s medical program. He graduated in 1958. That same year he married Grace Akin. They would eventually go on to have three children together.
After graduating, Kountz began his residency at Stanford University School of Medicine. There, he focused on surgery. He developed a particular interest in kidney transplants. Prior to 1960, kidney transplants could only be done successfully if the donor and recipient were twins. Kountz later discovered that monitoring blood-flow into the new kidney and administering methylprednisolone after surgery enabled the body to accept a new kidney.
In 1966, Kountz became a faculty member at Stanford University Hospital and Medical School. The following year, he became the head of kidney transplant service at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). There, he worked with Folker Belzer to create the Belzer kidney perfusion machine. The machine would keep a kidney alive for 50 hours after extraction.
As a result of Kountz’s time working for UCSF, their kidney transplant research center evolved into one of the best in the country. He also established the Center for Human Values at UCSF. The center was created to discuss ethical issues regarding transplants with patients.
In 1972, the State University of New York, the Downstate Medical Center, recruited Kountz. The university offered him the position of professor and chair of the department of surgery. He accepted the position. His plan was to improve medical care for Black people in underserved areas like Brooklyn.
Throughout the 1970s, Kountz traveled around the world, sharing his medical expertise. While in South Africa, in 1977, he contracted an unknown disease that led to severe brain damage. Samuel Lee Kountz, Jr. died on December 23, 1981, in Kings Point, New York. He was 51 years old. He won several awards for his contribution to medicine and now, kidney transplants are fairly routine procedures.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer. Thank you.**