McGill University Health Centre celebrates 50th anniversary of Canada’s 1st kidney transplant


Life-saving procedure was pioneered at Royal Victoria Hospital site
and marked Canada’s first such operation

A medical milestone is being celebrated at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) this month. Fifty years ago, in 1958, Dr. John Dossetor pioneered Canada’s first successful kidney transplant between identical twins at the Royal Victoria Hospital. It was the first such life-saving procedure in Canada or in the entire Commonwealth and allowed its recipient to avoid certain death.

The historic transplant was made possible because, in this instance, there was an identical twin sister. It was known that another kidney would be rejected but two successful kidney transplants between identical twins had been reported from Boston three and a half years earlier.   “In 1958 dialysis was a dangerous undertaking. So dangerous was it that we elected not to dialyze this young woman,” says Dr. Dossetor. “She actually underwent major surgery under conditions of advanced uremia (build up of toxins in the blood). It was one of the things I’ll never forget, the speed at which urine came out of the ureter after the transplant, signalling success. This was an exhilarating moment for the medical team.” The team included Dr. Joe Luke, a vascular surgeon and Dr. Ken MacKinnon, then the Chief of Urology.

“I knew the only way my sister would live was if I donated my kidney," says Nola Johnson, Canada's first kidney donor. "I didn't hesitate and volunteered immediately. I knew it was something that I could do. It was the gift of life and gave Moira (my sister) 29 more years. We were fortunate in having a great team of doctors and medical staff looking after us and the result was a successful transplant.”

Five decades, 2,660 transplants

The lucky recipient of Canada’s first kidney transplant went on to live for another three decades, thanks to the intervention done at the Royal Victoria Hospital, now part of the McGill University Health Centre. The McGill University Health Centre has since continued to lead the way in transplantation – in 1968, the first heart transplant at McGill was performed, and the pancreas and liver transplant programs were inaugurated in 1988 and 1990, respectively. To date, more than 2,660 transplants have been performed.

Dr. Steven Paraskevas, a McGill University Health Centre transplant surgeon, says working in transplantation is an incredibly rewarding experience: “It’s a privilege to play a part in an event that marks both a physical and psychological turning point in the lives of these patients.”

Among Canada’s largest transplant programs>

The multi-organ transplantation program at the Royal Victoria Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre is one of the largest and most comprehensive in Canada – performing more than 150 kidney, liver, pancreas and heart transplants per year. Up to 100 healthcare professionals can be involved in the care of a single transplant patient.

“As an academic health centre, having a highly successful multi-organ transplantation program is incredibly important,” noted the Hon. Dr. Arthur T. Porter, Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the McGill University Health Centre. “Not only are we able to supply the complex medical care our patients need, but such a program allows us to attract, retain and train experts in an array of disciplines as well as conduct research to improve future patients’ quality of life. I am proud of our team and their accomplishments.”

Loraine Peters, a McGill University Health Centre nurse transplant coordinator, has contributed to countless interventions. “It’s always a thrill to play a part in restoring a patient’s quality of life,” says Peters, who has worked in kidney, heart and liver transplant for three decades. “This is why transplant is so important – why donation is such a special gift.”

Gala celebration of transplant milestone

In honour of Dr. John Dossetor, the Multi-Organ Transplant Team of the Royal Victoria Hospital will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first transplant in the Commonwealth on Thursday, October 16th, 2008. This occasion will be commemorated at Le Windsor with a gala event that will include some of the most prestigious members of our medical community, some of the bravest transplant patients and the most generous transplant donors, and some of the most philanthropic members of our business community.  
Join us for an evening of dinner and dancing through the purchase of tickets, which are available for $450 each. Or, take a moment to support this crucial endeavour by making a donation toward the event. Proceeds will be directed toward transplant research, education and patient care. For more information, please contact Gabriella Conte at (514) 934-1934 ext. 35880 or Gabriella.Conte [at]

About John Dossetor

John Dossetor is a founding father of Canadian dialysis and transplantation. The physician and bioethicist was born in Bangalore, India, in 1925. After graduating from the University of Oxford, he immigrated to Canada in 1955 to teach at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine. By 1958, he coordinated Canada’s first kidney transplant at the Royal Victoria Hospital. In 1970, he joined the University of Alberta as a professor and co–director of the Medical Research Council, Transplantation Research Unit of the University of Alberta Hospital. He is one of the co-founders of the Kidney Foundation of Canada and an Officer of the Order of Canada.

About the McGill University Health Centre

The MUHC represents six teaching hospitals affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University: the Montreal Children's Hospital, the Montreal General Hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Montreal Neurological Hospital, the Montreal Chest Institute and the Lachine Hospital. Building on the tradition of medical leadership of its founding hospitals, the MUHC continues to shape the course of academic medicine by attracting clinical and research authorities from around the world and by training the next generation of medical professionals. It also continues to provide the “Best Care for Life” to patients of all ages.



Contact Information

Rebecca Burns
Communications Coordinator - MUHC Public Relations and Communications
rebecca.burns [at]
Office Phone: 
(514) 843 1560