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Genealogy: Family Histories

Henry Ray Family

Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 09/16/2009

Lisbon twins helped create medical history

Henry Ray, 74, of Plainview Parkway in the Town of Lisbon helped create medical history 50 years ago when he donated his kidney to his twin brother, James - making him the first Wisconsin kidney donor.

Henry Ray, 74, of Plainview Parkway in the Town of Lisbon helped create medical history 50 years ago when he donated his kidney to his twin brother, James - making him the first Wisconsin kidney donor in the eighth such transplant operation in the world.

James Ray, a U.S. Navy veteran, was facing a service-related kidney failure at the time. In fact, his doctors at Woods Hospital on National Avenue in Milwaukee told Henry his brother had just a few days left to live.

50TH ANNIVERSARY - Former Sussex Lions Club President Tom Rapp presents a $500 check to Henry Ray for the Wisconsin Kidney Foundation on June 6 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Henry's historic kidney donation to his twin brother, James.
One of the doctors, though, had just come back from a transplant seminar at Harvard University in Boston and asked Henry whether he would be willing to donate one of his kidneys to save his brother.

"It was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing," Henry recalled in a telephone interview earlier this week.

Since James was a veteran, the U.S. Air Force got into the act, flying both brothers to Boston.

"It was my first flight ever," Henry said.

It took a month after their arrival May 13, however, before the operation was scheduled.

"I walked the streets of Boston for the next 30 days," Henry said, while his brother's weight fell from 150 to 90 pounds.

Dr. Joseph E. Murray, who originated the transplant technique (and won a Nobel Prize in 1990 for his work on organ and cell transplantation), performed the surgery June 13.

James lived another five years, got married and fathered a daughter before a relapse took his life in 1963.

Henry Ray and his wife, Dolores, moved to Lisbon in September 1965. In their 43 years here, both became active in the community, volunteering for a variety of government- and privately sponsored civic efforts.

Henry was a longtime member of the Lisbon Park Board and currently serves on the Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society Board of Directors.

Dolores helps staff the Pauline Haass Library ice cream social and worked as hostess for the Sussex senior citizen projects. She is also a valued contributor to the work of the Historical Society, especially to installation of new displays.

Henry is also something of a local political enthusiast and frequently attends Lisbon town government events and meetings.

The Rays have two sons and a daughter and six grandchildren.

To this day, Henry is glad he gave his twin brother an extra five years, and an opportunity for a marriage and fatherhood.

"I've never breathed a breath of regret for what I did," he said, nor has he experienced any negative side-effects since then. "I have no problems, and I take no medication for it," he said.

TWINS - This early 1950s photo shows twin brothers Henry and James Ray. Henry (left) donated a kidney to his twin brother, James, in 1958 (the first in Wisconsin and only the eighth in the world), allowing James to marry and father a child before a relapse took his life in 1963.
Henry Ray has kept in touch with Dr. Murray over the years and joined in a 30th-anniversary reunion 20 years ago. This year's 50th reunion at Harvard will bring together Henry and Dolores and their children, grandchildren, in-laws, James Ray's former wife and daughter and Dr. Murray, now in his late 80s.


Aware of the anniversary, the Sussex Lions Club, which has been a major donor to kidney disease and injury treatments, presented Henry a $500 check for the Wisconsin Kidney Foundation. The Rays will take the check with them to Boston and give it to Dr. Murray, who will pass it on to the Wisconsin Kidney Foundation.

The reunion in Boston will include a family trip to Fenway Park to see the world champion Boston Red Sox. The baseball team plans to give Dr. Murray and Henry Ray a first-class VIP experience at the ballpark.

"This reunion is a dream come true for me," Ray said. "That event back in 1958 was the high point of my life."

Staff writer Peter Abbott contributed to this story.

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