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Transplant doc, Nobel winner Murray dies in Boston

By MARK PRATT Published: November 27, 2012

Murray continued a long career in plastic surgery, his original specialty, and transplants. He was guided by his own deep religious convictions.

“Work is a prayer,” he told the Harvard University Gazette in 2001. “And I start off every morning dedicating it to our Creator.”

Murray told the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004 that he continued to get letters from patients he helped years earlier and from relatives of those who died during the early efforts.

“They often say … that they are happy to have played some small part in the eventual success of organ transplants,” he said, praising the courage of his patients and their families.

Murray was honored at the 2004 Transplant Games, for athletes who have received organ transplants, along with Ronald Herrick, the man who had donated a kidney to his twin brother a half-century earlier.

Murray continued to support and mentor others at Brigham and Women's Hospital after his retirement, hospital President Dr. Elizabeth Nabel said. An exhibit in the hospital's library housing his Nobel Prize, she said, is framed by his own words: “Service to society is the rent we pay for living on this planet.”

Murray's interest in transplants developed during his time in the Army during World War II when he was assigned to Valley Forge General Hospital in Pennsylvania while awaiting overseas duty. The hospital performed reconstructive surgery on troops who had been injured in battle.

The burn patients, who often were treated with skin grafts from other people, intrigued Murray.

“The slow rejection of the foreign skin grafts fascinated me,” Murray wrote in autobiography for the Nobel Prize ceremony. “How could the host distinguish another person's skin from his own?”

The hospital's chief of plastic surgery had performed skin grafts on civilians and noticed that the closer the donor and recipient were related, the slower the tissue was rejected. A skin graft between identical twins had taken permanently.

Murray said that was “the impetus” of his study of organ transplantation.

Murray was ever the optimist and kept on his desk a quotation, “Difficulties are opportunities,” his son Rick Murray said.

“It reflects the unwavering optimism of a great man who was generous, curious, and always humble,” Rick Murray said in a statement released by the hospital.

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