The University of Texas at Austin
  • Extraordinary Exes: E. Donnall Thomas and Stephanie Wilson

    Published: July 12, 2010

    To celebrate its 125th anniversary, the Texas Exes asked its members to share their stories, showing that what starts here truly changes the world. During the next few weeks, Know will feature 12 stories that show why these alums deserve the title “Extraordinary Exes.”

    Dr. E. Donnall Thomas

    Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, B.A. 1941, M.A. 1943

    The medical research of E. Donnall Thomas took bone-marrow transplant survival rates from near zero percent to as high as 90 percent — saving countless lives and earning him a Nobel Prize.

    Before Thomas’s time, leukemia was terminal.

    During years of long nights in the hospital or lab, working with research animals and fellow scientists, he bored into the problem — the body was rejecting transplanted bone marrow. First, Thomas had proven in 1956 that marrow could be transplanted successfully between twins. Then in 1969, after developing drugs to suppress the immune system after surgery, he performed the first successful bone marrow transplant into a recipient who was not the donor’s twin. As a direct result of his work, most leukemia patients now survive the disease.

    Thomas grew up a doctor’s son in rural Texas, and his technological achievement is astonishing given his father moved to the frontier in a covered wagon in 1874. “Together,” Thomas said when he became a Nobel laureate in 1990, “we span the time from horse and buggy house calls to modern high-tech medicine.”

    Stephanie Wilson

    Stephanie Wilson, M.S. 1992

    The second African American woman to go into space, astronaut Stephanie Wilson had loads of technical, engineering and aerospace knowledge — but a basic childhood skill she had skipped almost kept her from her dream.

    Wilson couldn’t swim. But she was driven.

    She had earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University, and attended The University of Texas at Austin for a master’s degree, where her research focused on the control and modeling of large, flexible space structures. She used her advanced degree to get a job at California’s prestigious Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and then applied to the space program. After a summer determinedly stroking and kicking toward that key NASA requirement — knowing how to swim — Wilson was in.

    Now, she has already logged more than 42 days in space during three missions, her most recent mission taking place this past April.

    View a full list of Extraordinary Exes on the Texas Exes Web site.

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