On Friday, May 24, 1968, Bruce Tucker celebrated the end of his work week at an egg-packing plant in Richmond by gathering with friends and sharing wine.
But the camaraderie ended early when the 54-year-old African American fell off the wall on which he was sitting, suffered a serious head injury, was taken to Medical College of Virginia Hospital and admitted as a charity patient.
A day later, the Dinwiddie County native was pronounced dead, and his heart and kidneys were harvested. His heart went to Joseph Klett, a 54-year-old white businessman from Orange County. The heart transplant was the 16th in the world, the ninth in the United States and the first to involve different races.
Meanwhile, younger brother William Tucker, who owned a shoe-repair shop near MCV, had learned of Bruce’s presence there through a friend. But when he sought information from the hospital, he received nothing that was helpful.
Longtime Virginia journalist Chip Jones tells the tale in “The Organ Thieves,” an exploration of ambition and research—and the lingering ghost of Jim Crow.
Despite police efforts, MCV was unable to locate Bruce Tucker’s relatives. And the transplant took place sooner than the 24-hour waiting period required by Virginia law before the disposal of unclaimed bodies or for their use in research.
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