Dr. Samuel Lee Kountz was one of the first black students admitted to the University of Arkansas Medical School, and in 1961, he became one of the first surgeons to successfully perform a kidney transplant.
Kountz and nine others were honored for their efforts toward equality in healthcare during a public ceremony in Little Rock on Friday, October 24, 2014. Learn more at the 2014 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail Commemoration.
Dr. Kountz graduated from Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) after attending a one-room schoolhouse and picking cotton as his first job as a young boy. He graduated from Morris Booker High School and earned a chemistry degree from the University of Arkansas graduating third in his class. Kountz had been rejected when he initially applied to the University of Arkansas Medical School now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. However, in 1954, Kountz became one of the first black students admitted to the medical school.
In 1956, Kountz attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and graduated with his Master’s in biochemistry prior to his internship at Stanford Service. While in California, he completed his surgical residency, studying with Ray Cohn a pioneer in organ transplantation. While interning at Stanford Service, Kountz received the Giannini Fellowship in surgery that supported his graduate studies in San Francisco as well as his postdoctoral training in England.
He is best known for his innovative work in kidney transplants. In 1961, while still a resident, Kountz and Roy Cohn, one of his professors, performed the first successful kidney transplant between two people who were not twins.
He went on to perform more than 500 such surgeries, making him a pioneer in the medical profession. In the middle 1960s he performed the first successful kidney transplant in the Middle East while serving as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt.
In 1972, Kountz left the University of California to go to New York where he chose to practice in an impoverished area of Brooklyn to improve medical care in the black community. That same year he became chief of surgery at New York’s King County Hospital Medical Center.
Kountz contracted a debilitating brain disease while lecturing in South Africa in 1977 and died in 1981 at the age of 51.
Posted In: Honorees