Black History Month - Dr. Samuel Lee Kountz - Pioneer of Organ Transplant Surgery - Performed First Kidney Transplant

The Black Oklahoman

Samuel Lee Kountz Jr. was a physician and pioneer in organ transplantation, particularly renal transplant research and surgery. An Arkansas success story, he overcame the limitations of his childhood as an African American in the Delta region of a racially segregated state to achieve national and world prominence in the medical field.

Samuel Lee Kountz, the eldest son of a Baptist minister, was born in Lexa, Arkansas, in 1930. He first became interested in medicine at the age of eight, when he accompanied an injured friend to a local hospital for emergency treatment. He was so moved by the doctors’ ability to relieve suffering that he decided to become a physician. He completed his early education in Lexa, then spent three years at a Baptist boarding school established for youngsters considering the ministry. Although the school provided him with the discipline he needed, its academic program was weak, and he was forced to take remedial courses before gaining admission to the Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College of Arkansas (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).

Kountz soon proved himself an able student, however, and graduated third in his class in 1952. His hopes and ambitions were clear. On his college application, submitted in July of 1948, he wrote that he planned to be “one of the best students that has ever attended AM&N College” and “one of the best doctors in the world in my day and time,” according to Claude H. Organ, Jr., in A Century of Black Surgeons: The U.S.A. Experience.

During his senior year, Kountz happened to meet Senator J. William Fulbright, who had once been president of the University of Arkansas. Impressed by Kountz’s energy and enthusiasm, Fulbright asked him what he planned to do following graduation. Kountz told him that he hoped to attend a black medical school, where he could realize his lifelong dream of becoming a surgeon. Fulbright urged him to consider the medical school at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, instead. Kountz applied but was rejected; he spent the next two years completing graduate work in chemistry at the university’s Fayetteville campus. Then, on the basis of his accomplishments, he was awarded a full medical scholarship, and in 1954 became one of the first black students to be admitted to the University of Arkansas Medical School.
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