Wednesday, February 12, 2020

John R. Brinkley - A Pioneering Transplant Surgeon

Dr. Brinkley in action. Just say BAA
The recent outbreak of Corona virus piqued my interest in past outbreaks so I began reviewing the events underlying the great influenza outbreak of 1918-19 and lo and behold the strange career of Dr. John Brinkley came to light. This man was no ordinary surgeon, in fact his only medical credential was a $500 phony diploma he purchased from the Eclectic University of Kansas. His skills as a pitchman exceeded his surgical skills by huge margin.

Dr. Brinkley, a physician of questionable  competence, to say the least, began his career treating victims of the great influenza outbreak. On  a house call to a farmer named Stittsworth, he found the hapless patient  complaining of impotence, Brinkley had an epiphany that would make him a millionaire. Eyeing the proud testicles of a nearby penned up Toggenburg goat he remarked, "You wouldn't have any tumescence troubles down there with one of those goat glands in you."

The troubled farmer replied, "Well why don't you just put one of them goat balls in me?" To an eager surgeon, the external anatomic character of male genitalia is like dangling the keys to a Pontiac Trans Am before the eyes of a hot rodder. All that exposed  anatomy is just begging to be incised, dilatated, or ram-rodded with a scope.

In 1920, the eager surgeon went to work on the readily accessible scrotum and implanted a goat testicle in the impotent Farmer Stittsworth. There was no neurovascular connection or fancy anastomosis to the vas deferens; the transplanted gland was popped in and left to hang there like a drunk dangling from a bar stool. A rubber crutch would be more functional.

Soon the farmer was singing the good doctors praises albeit a few ovtaves higher about his new found libido. (The placebo effect of sham surgery is even greater than it's pharmaceutical counterpart.)  When the farmer's wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy who was named after the good doctor, word spread far and wide. Large groups of forlorn men showed up at Brinkley's office eager to pony up with the surgeons goat gland  implant fee of  $750 ( equivalent of $10,000 in today's money.)  Exploiting desperate patients like this was a foul ball of the highest order, but Dr. Brinkley was a master of self promotion with little regard for the welfare of his patients.

What he lacked in respect from the medical community he made up with acquisition of material goods which included a fleet of Cadillacs, an airplane, a yacht and an opulent mansion. Before his medical license was revoked in 1923 on the grounds of unprofessional conduct he performed nearly 16,000 goat/human xenographs.

The man who fittingly sported a goatee throughout his career developed a deep vein thrombus necessitating the amputation of his leg in the early 1940s. His handicaps did little to slow down his huckstering spirit. Perhaps the inspiration of sacrificing goats on the surgical alter led him to the study of theology. His dreams of launching a mega church died with him.

Karma seems to catch up with just about everyone. This gland grafting gooofus died penniless.


  1. Hi OFRN! Quite the shyster wasn't he? It sounds like the placebo effect worked very well for his patients mind you...
    What a hoot! Thanks for a fascinating bit of historical medical trivia!
    Cheers from Sue

  2. Hi Sue. I was thinking of you with all the news about the terrible fires in Australia. I hope you are doing well.

    1. Hi OFRN, I did type a reply to you a while ago but the system deleted it...

      Yes we're OK here thank you but it has been a horrendous summer - estimated a billion wildlife lost, thousands of homes, and land the size of Ireland burnt. The heatwaves have been unbelievable, like being baked alive. We still have a terrible drought here and are running low on drinking water...
      If this is going to be the new normal, it's frightening indeed.
      I have a friend who is moving to New Zealand to escape the heat...
      Roll on autumn and winter I say... Thank you for thinking of us over here in Oz. Sue

  3. Thank goodness he didn't try to implant rhino horns down there! Unless it worked, of course. :)

  4. As I alluded to, all that readily accessible anatomy attracts some odd ball interventions. Google the "Finney flexi rod," a hinged prosthesis with a trimmable tail (I don't think I want to know what the heck tail trimming entails.)