30 Years of Kidney Transplants

The University of Texas Medical School in Houston recently marked its third decade of providing kidney transplants, and being a recognized leader in making organ transplants commonplace in the medical world. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

Click to Listen

UT Houston opened its Division of Immunology and Transplantation and started providing kidney transplants in 1977, under the watchful eyes and busy hands of department head and transplant surgeon Dr. Barry Kahan.

"In 1976, the year before we initiated the center, there were only 16 kidney transplants performed in Houston, a city, at that time, of over two and a half million people. In the first year of operation we performed 32 kidney transplants, within three years we were up to a hundred a year."

Dr. Kahan says UT Houston now does about 200 kidney transplants each year. UT is a leader in this field because Kahan directed clinical trials for several anti-rejection drugs that are now used around the world, including cyclosporin, which revolutionized the entire field of organ transplants.

"In 1982 actually, in collaboration with Denton Cooley, we began the heart transplant program at Texas Heart, and that program has expanded over the years."

Over 30 years, UT Houston has done almost five thousand organ transplants of all kinds, with a success rate of more than 80 percent. Kahan says it's hard to determine a mortality rate in kidney transplants because even if a transplanted kidney fails, the patient can live almost indefinitely on dialysis. Mary Jane Willard of Houston is one of Kahan's success stories. She got a kidney from her older brother in 1980, after two and a half years of dialysis. Willard knows she was lucky because she had a brother who was a perfect match, but she knows many people aren't so fortunate, and many people die every year waiting for a transplant. She says she never stops being thankful.

"Because at the time that I had my kidney, they said 'well you know, you can probably keep your kidney for 20 years.' Well, when I had it 20 years I was really nervous, and I was scared that something might happen, but now it's seven years later, it's 27 years, and I'm fine."

Mary Jane Willard joins with Dr. Barry Kahan in urging people to consider being an organ donor, and give the gift of life, so when they pass on, their organs can help someone else live on. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.