Hours became a life of gratitude

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45 years later for transplant patient

“I WAS told I only have a few hours to live,” said Jean Andrew, the world’s longest surviving kidney transplant patient who turned 80 yesterday.

Now, 45 years later, she is not only alive, but also still does her own grocery shopping, gardens, crochets and knits.This strong woman has only gone back to the hospital for hip and knee replacement surgeries and considers herself very blessed to still be alive and living a normal life.

“I just wish I had the chance to thank my donor but he has passed away. If it weren’t for him, I would not have had the chance to live for another 45 years.
“I’ve now had the chance to see my grandchildren and even my great-grandchild. I have been truly blessed and believe my trust and faith in God are what has brought me this far
in life,” Andrew said.

The energetic pensioner explained what led to the transplant in 1971. “In 1970, I woke up one morning and realised that I could not get up out of bed.
“Eventually, I crawled to the neighbours who then called the doctor who immediately had me admitted to Frere Hospital.
“However, during that time, the doctors were unable to tell what was wrong with me and so they called a specialist who immediately said I had renal failure,” Andrew recalled.
“I was flown to Groote Schuur Hospital together with my husband and doctor.”

While she was unconscious, her husband was told that she only had a few hours to live. When they arrived at Groote Schuur, she was put on dialysis for nine hours a day, three times a week.
“After three months on dialysis, they told me a donor – a 19-year-old who had fallen off Table Mountain while he was mountain-climbing and declared brain dead – had been found. I was happy that a kidney was found and thank the donor’s family for the life he has given
me,” Andrew said.

AGAINST ALL ODDS: Jean Andrew has defied all odds and medical professional ’ predictions by becoming the longest surviving kidney transplant patient alive Picture: QHAMANI LINGANI

“I am so grateful to the donor. Unfortunately the hospital never told me who it was.
“But then one day, my grandchild managed to find out who he was on Google. However, I could not find the family.
“But if he was still alive, I would say thank you. He gave me life and I will forever be grateful,” Andrew explained.
“My son was two years old and my daughter 11 and all I asked from God was for a chance to raise them and he gave me that and more. If I had to die tomorrow, I would die a happy soul,” she said.

Andrew believes her longevity and will to live would have surprised the doctors and nurses at the Groote Schuur Hospital, where the operation was performed in 1971.
“The doctors and nurses gave me no hope of surviving, telling me that they would have a hell of a party if I lived for six months. “But by God’s grace I am still alive
and still doing a lot of things like gardening, sewing and baking,” she said.

Andrew’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% of kidney transplant patients. For transplants back then, only about 40% of patients lived for five years post-transplant,” the kidney specialist explained.

In the first article written by the GO! on Andrew in 2010, the Organ Donor Foundation in Cape Town said Andrew could well be the longest living kidney transplant survivor but that it was difficult to say for sure.
On average, transplant survivors are expected to live for between 10 and 15 years after their transplant.
“There are three transplant centres and each centre – in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg – keeps their own list and details on transplants. It would be difficult to obtain all those.We [Organ Donor Foundation] don’t know the patients but give them numbers on a list,” an official at the organisation said.

“Groote Schuur is the oldest transplant centre in the country and that would mean that Jean, who had her transplant there, could be the oldest kidney transplant survivor.”

Another factor that makes her survival that much more amazing is that in the ’70s, doctors did not have the current medical advances they do now.
Jean was also already 34 when she had the operation. She urged people to become organ
and blood donors as she believes that so many more people could have a “happy second chance” at life

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