Local’s kidney transplant lasts 39 years

EAST Londoner Jean Andrew celebrated 39 years of her kidney transplant on February 10, making her, unofficially, South Africa’s longest and one of the world’s longest kidney transplant survivors.

Jean Andrew
Picture: MATTHEW FIELD

Jean says she can’t believe it’s been 39 years since the life saving operation and she still feels great.

“I’m feeling 100 percent, absolutely great. I’ve had no real problems with my kidney. The only thing my doctor says when he sees me for my check-up, every six months, is ‘great’ and it’s ‘amazing’ to see how well I’m still doing. I still keep active by doing crochet, knitting and gardening. One has to keep one’s mind going, otherwise you’ll collapse,” said Jean .

Her longevity and will to live would surely surprise the doctors and nurses at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, where the operation was performed in 1971, after they gave her six just months to live after the transplant.

“The doctors and nurses gave me no hope of surviving, telling me they would have a hell of a party if I lived for six months (after the operation). But by God’s grace I am still alive and still doing a lot of things like gardening, sewing, baking and driving myself around,” said the proud 73-year-old.

Jean said she had to have the emergency operation done after suffering from severe headaches and pains in the back of her legs.

She suffered a kidney failure and had to be transferred to Groote Schuur because the Frere Hospital of the day did not have a renal unit.

“I was treated and my kidney began functioning again but after six months it deteriorated and I had to live on dialysis for three months. They told me only a kidney transplant could save my life but none of my family’s kidneys were compatible.

“After the three months on dialysis they told me a donor had been found – a 19-year-old who had fallen off Table Mountain and was brain dead,” said Jean .

Her faith and what she calls her “second chance” at life drives her to care for others, and she cares for three elderly residents in her block of flats.

She urges more people to become donors of not only of organs but also of blood as she believes many more people can have a “happy second chance” at life.

Samantha Volschenk from the Organ Donor Foundation in Cape Town said Jean could well be the longest kidney transplant survivor but said it was difficult to know exactly.

“There are three transplant centres and each centre (in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg) keeps their own list and details of transplants and it would be difficult to obtain all those,” said Volschenk.

Jean ’s doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said her survival and good health is “absolutely exceptional”.

“With recent medical advances and treatment, the kidney lasts five years in about 80 to 90 percent of kidney transplant patients. For transplants back then only about 40 percent of patients lived for five years post transplant,” said the kidney specialist.

The first successful kidney transplants were done in 1952 in Boston and Paris and were the first successful human organ transplants. Some famous names who have had kidney transplants include actor and comedian George Lopez, singer/songwriter, Natalie Cole, actor Gary Coleman and rugby star Jonah Lomu.

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