About 20,000 kidney transplants are performed each year, which is good news in and of itself.
Despite this, over 90,000 people remain on the kidney transplant list. And sadly, over 5,000 people die each year while waiting for a new kidney. In spite of these numbers, Steve White is one of the lucky ones.
He received a new kidney from the most incredible of sources, his own father, back in 1969 when he was just a teenager.
Now, he’s counting his lucky stars, reminiscing on the time he and his father bonded after his dad’s life-saving act.
“Steve, Have Your Parents Call Me Tonight”
Steve was just 18 years old at the time, but healthy and in his prime.
He wanted to play football at Auburn University in Georgia, but he needed a routine physical first.
That’s he got the news no one ever wants to hear — he had an incurable kidney disease, and needed a replacement.
“I went to my doctor, who just did an in-office urinalysis, and he came back and said, ‘Steve, have your parents call me tonight,’” White said according to an Atlanta news station.
“I actually learned from them that I had an incurable kidney disease. In hindsight, I think it’s kind of good I was naive about what was ahead.”
By age 20, both of his kidneys had failed, and he needed a new kidney to survive. He sat in the hospital, critically ill and wondering what to do next.
Young Man’s Dad Was a Perfect Match for His Son
Steve’s dad Elmer White, then in his mid-40’s, was found to be a near perfect match for his son.
It was 1972, however, and kidney transplants were still considered experimental.
It was a big risk, and the surgeons would be learning on the fly.
Undeterred, the White’s decided to go for it.
“They were doing it at other places in the country, but I was one of the first at Emory (Georgia),” Steve White said.
Every detail of the transplant was covered by local news media — it was a big story.
After early signs of rejection and a few complications, his dad’s kidney finally began working inside his son’s body.
Ten years later, Steve got incredible news.
The Doctor’s Appointment That Changed Everything
About ten years later, White felt strongly as though he needed to speak with his doctor.
There were so many questions on his mind.
Was he finally in the clear?
Was there any danger that the kidney would give out, and start to become rejected by his body?
With consternation in his mind, White opened the door to his doctor’s office and asked him the biggest question on his mind.
How long should he expect his father’s kidney to last?
“He said the average lifespan at that time was about seven years,” White said.
“It’s Always Fun When You Go See a New Doctor”
Fifty years later, Steve White, and his father’s kidney, have proved all the doctors and doubters alike wrong.
“It’s always fun when you go see a new doctor,” Steve said. “They’re like, ‘Wow!”
Currently, most living donor kidneys last about 12 to 15 years according to Dr. Nicole Turgeon, who is now Chief of Transplant Surgery at University of Austin Dell Medical School.
Twenty years is considered a milestone, but Steve has beaten all of the odds thanks to his father’s special gift.
“Fifty years is an incredibly long period of time,” Dr. Turgeon said. “It’s impressive.”
According to Dr. Turgeon, the transplant community should study records of recipients like Steve White to see what they can learn from them.
Turgeon believes the transplant community should study transplant recipients like Steve White to see what they can learn from them.
Steve’s father Elmer died in 2002, but his incredible legacy lives on through his kidney, which is now 96 years old.
“I think about him every day, him and my mom both,” Steve said.
“I’ve got to be the luckiest guy on earth,” White says. “I have been blessed way beyond anything I ever deserved.”
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