AUSTIN, Tex. — Frank Dewhurst saw a sign in his neighbor’s front yard.
“I am type O and I need a kidney transplant. Please help me.”
Frank is type O+. He knew that he needed to help.
Linda Nall, the neighbor asking for a kidney, was diagnosed with lupus in 1986. The disease eventually begun to attack her kidneys in 2001. Dewhurst had noticed that his neighbor was having trouble getting in and out of her car. Frank had also seen the messages written on Nall’s car as well as her social media pages.
After seeing the sign, he decided to stop by his neighbor’s house for a visit.
That visit happened during the holiday season of 2018. Nall finally got her kidney — thanks to Frank Dewhurst.
In return, Dewhurst now holds the title of the oldest living kidney donor in US history at age 84.
Following through on Kidney Donation
Frank Dewhurst is part of his neighborhood’s homeowner’s association in Austin, Texas. When Nall saw him at the door, she assumed that he would ask her to remove the yard sign.
“(She said) something like, ‘That’s the last thing we were expecting from you,'” Dewhurst said in an interview with CNN.
Dewhurst said that he had a level of familiarity with kidney donation. For example, he knew it was possible to live with only one kidney.
One story about kidney donation stuck in his mind however:
About a year prior he had read a story in the AARP magazine about three friends that had gone to Arizona together to golf. One of the friends had kidney failure. After some testing, one of the friends was found to be a potential match.
Dewhurst remembered thinking that if other elderly people could donate their kidneys, he could maybe do the same one day. He talked the decision over with his wife, who offered her full support. Before long, he took the leap and donated his kidney.
Dewhurst and Nell were a perfect match
While more than 5,000 kidney donations take place every year, only 200 donors in the last quarter century have been over the age of 70.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, at an older age, the healing process takes much longer. There’s also very stringent physical and psychological tests that the donor must pass.
It should also be noticed that kidneys function less efficiently with age. Dr. Hassan Ibrahim, Dewhurst’s surgeon, stated the average adult loses one-percent of kidney function each year after the age of 40.
Assuming Dewhurst had 100% kidney functionality at age 40, he would only have about 56% functionality at age 84.
Dewhurst fell into a smaller subset of the population that doesn’t experience significant decline in kidney function, so Nall was very fortunate to receive such a gift.
Regardless, many surgeons would think twice about giving an elderly patient’s kidney to a younger person due to the potential for a kidney to fail as it ages. In this situation, an 84-year-old donating to a 72-year-old was ideal.
“When he approached us, I actually did not put him through the physical evaluation process,” Ibrahim said. Instead, the surgeon met with Dewhurst to explain the potential complications.
After a series of interviews, Ibrahim said he was impressed with Dewhurst’s physical condition. He was fairly active for a man his age and was not taking any medications. He was, in fact, the ideal candidate to donate a kidney.
Nall can now live a healthy life
Frank Dewhurst has now set the record for the nation’s oldest kidney donor, beating the previous record holder by 85 days.
What would have happened if Dewhurst had not chosen to donate his kidney?
Nall had recently started dialysis treatments before receiving her kidney. The average septuagenarian on dialysis has a life expectancy of about five years. In the state of Texas, five years is also the average wait time for a donated kidney.
After receiving a donated kidney, the recipient increases their life expectancy up an additional seven years on average.
“I just hope it motivates others that are healthy, no matter what age, to donate,” he said. “And hopefully somebody 85, 86, will donate. No big deal. It’s a number.”
Both Dewhurst and Nall are recovering nicely.
“I am going to make the most of Frank’s generous gift and live life to the fullest,” Nall said in a news release from Houston Methodist. “I cannot wait.”
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