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October 27, 2012

Pioneering Bassett doctor remembered

Colleagues and friends are remembering the late Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, a former physician in chief at Bassett Hospital and a recipient of a Nobel Prize, as a pioneer on bone marrow transplantation.

Thomas, who died last Saturday at the age of 92 in Seattle, Wash., completed the first bone marrow transplant in history in 1956 with Drs. Joseph W. Ferrebee, Theodore Peters Jr. and David A. Blumenstock at Bassett. The bone marrow from a healthy twin was transfused to a twin with leukemia.

Landmark heart and lung transplantation was also done at Bassett during this period, according to a media release from Bassett.

Thomas received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990.

“The years during which Dr. Thomas and his team conducted their research at Bassett was an amazing time for medicine, and their pioneering work helped place this Cooperstown hospital on a world stage,” Dr. William F. Streck, Bassett’s president and CEO, said in the release. “Bassett enjoys a rich history as a leader in rural medicine because of the great work and brilliant minds of so many individuals like Dr. Thomas over the hospital’s 90-year history.”

Thomas was an assistant physician at Bassett from September 1955 through June of 1956. He was appointed physician in chief on July 1, 1956, and remained in that position until July 8, 1963.

While the bone marrow transplantation work was under way at Bassett, patients arrived from all over the world, the release stated. It would take many years at Bassett, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and other centers to work out the details leading to reliable transplant successes.

Thomas moved to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in 1974 and eventually became director of the clinical research division.

 “I hunted with Don a lot; he was a better shot than I was,”Peters said about his colleague and friend. “He was very quiet, with a soft voice. You could hardly hear him in a group, and I guess that’s good, because it makes you stop and listen. He was very bright, interested in all avenues of research.”

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