A Brief History
On June 15, 1667, Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys, personal physician to King Louis XIV, performed the first human blood transfusion. The patient was a 15 year old boy who had been treated by using leeches to suck out “the bad blood.”
Denys used about 12 oz. of Sheep’s blood and the boy lived, probably the first ever transfusion that did not kill the patient. Trying this technique on other patients, using small quantities of sheep or cow blood so as not to overload the allergic response was not so successful and some of his patients died.
Denys was accused by a patient’s wife of murder, but he was acquitted and the man was found to have died by arsenic poisoning, quite possibly from the wife. After his failures and his murder trial, Denys had had enough an quit the practice of medicine.
Human blood transfusions would not become a viable practice until after 1902 when Dr. Karl Landsteiner of Austria discovered the 4 blood groups (A, AB, B and O.) Another major factor was the discovery of the Rhesus (Rh) factor (positive or negative) by Landsteiner and Dr. Alexander Wiener in 1937. (Meanwhile, Landsteiner along with Dr. Erwin Popper discovered the polio virus as well.) Dr. George Washington Crile performed the first successful human blood transfusion during surgery at St. Alexis Hospital (Cleveland, Ohio) in 1908.
Of course, today blood transfusions are a safe and common life saving practice thanks to the researchers that struggled to find the correct methods over the years. Luckily for French patients, after the Denys murder trial animal to human transfusions were no longer allowed.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever had a blood transfusion? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Moore, Pete. Blood and Justice: The 17 Century Parisian Doctor Who Made Blood Transfusion History. Wiley, 2002.