Published on Thursday, March 12, 2015
UMMC leadership extends its sympathy to the family of a former thoracic and cardiovascular surgery resident at the Medical Center who participated in the first heart transplant in man.
Robert D. Williams, a retired thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon who completed his residency in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at UMMC in 1965 and participated in the historic heart transplant with Dr. James D. Hardy in 1965, died Feb. 28 in Stockton, California, after a brief battle with lymphoma. He was 81.
A native of Mound City, Missouri, Williams grew up in Smithville, Missouri, and earned his M.D. at Mizzou Medical School in 1959 and interned at Gorges Hospital in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone before coming to UMMC for residency training in 1960. Working under Hardy's leadership, Williams participated in the world's first heart transplant, that of a chimpanzee into a human, in 1964. For this effort, Williams received the Hektoen Silver Medal in New York.
After completing his residency, Williams returned to Smithville and practiced with the Smithville Medical Group until 1973. He relocated his practice to Kansas City, where he became a staff member at Research Medical Center, Baptist Medical Center, General Hospital, Trinity Lutheran Hospital, Menorah Medical Center and North Kansas City Hospital.
He was elected president of the Clay-Platte Medical Association and was a founding member and president of the Midwest Organ Bank, for whom he had provided some of the first organ transplantation surgical operations in the Kansas City area. He was also an associate professor of surgery at UMKC Medical School, where he helped train numerous medical students in surgery. He was named director of the Vascular Laboratory at North Kansas City Hospital in 1988 and continued his practice there until his retirement in 1988.
A "Celebration of Life" is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7, in the Prairie View Conference Room at North Kansas City Hospital. Williams' family suggests memorial contributions may be made to North Kansas City Hospital, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or any charity of choice.
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