Much of medical science writing involves reporting on the next potentially lifesaving treatment. But sometimes it’s rewarding to look back. The recent death of one of Stanford’s first kidney donors had me doing just that - and exploring a time when this now-common procedure was cutting edge.
Inga Goodnight, who died at the age of 99 in April, donated her kidney to her son Gary, who went on to live another 37 years.
As I wrote in a just-published article on their story:
Today, kidney transplants are established procedures; more than 17,000 were performed in the United States last year. Improvements in surgery and immunosuppressive drugs have increased the number of potential kidney matches. Studies have shown that donors have no increased health risks compared with the general public.
But in 1965, when Gary became the third patient to receive a kidney transplant at Stanford, many things were unknown. Doctors were still determining proper dosages for the immunosuppressive drugs, and they didn’t know if Gary’s body would reject the kidney or if he would even survive the first year.
While it was known that a person could live with one kidney, no one knew if there would be long-term health impacts for Inga. And unlike modern laparoscopic surgery, with its tiny incisions and short hospital stays, the surgery to remove the Inga’s kidney involved a large incision that cut through abdominal muscles and required a long recovery.
While these advancements in medicine were interesting, I found my conversation with Bill Goodnight (Inga’s son and Gary’s brother) about his memories from this time equally informative. In many ways their attitudes towards Gary’s condition and treatment seemed quite modern.
Gary Goodnight was aware that his kidneys weren’t going to last and actively followed the news about the emerging field of transplants. Both Bill and his mother had themselves tested to see which might make a good match. And, similar to today’s patients and families with life threatening conditions, the Goodnight family approached the procedure with hope.
Kim Smuga-Otto is a student in UC Santa Cruz’s science communication program and a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication and Public Affairs.
Previously: Double kidney transplants leave Hawaii siblings raring to go, Kidney-transplant recipients party without drugs - immune suppressing anti-rejection drugs, that is and Well blog: Minnesota man denied insurance for donating kidney
Photo courtesy of Bill Goodnight