WENDT
Nati Harnik  /  AP file
Harold Wendt received a kidney from his daughter at 84 years and 11 months of age, making him likely the oldest person in the country to receive an organ transplant from a living donor.
updated 9/8/2004 9:24:29 AM ET 2004-09-08T13:24:29

Karen Beckley gave a kidney to her 85-year-old dad, and in so doing, put him in the record book as the nation’s oldest person to receive an organ transplant from a living donor.

Harold Wendt, at 84 years and 11 months at the time of the operation in March, is believed to hold that distinction, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which began keeping records in 1988. The age of the previous record holder was 84 years and 2 months.

The median age for living donor recipients was 42 from 1994 to 2000, while the median age of deceased donor and living donor recipients was 49 last year, up from 44 in 1994.

There probably will be more and more older recipients because doctors are considering general health more than age in their evaluation of transplant candidates, said Dr. R. Brian Stevens, who operated on Wendt at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Stevens suspected Wendt, whom he described as robust and active, would pass the rigorous full cardiac evaluation, although he said he knew that older patients can present a challenge.

“I overplayed the concern a little bit,” Stevens said, “just to make them pause and really consider what they were getting into.”

Beckley, 57, who lives in Savannah, Ga., wasn’t scared away by the physician’s reservations.

'A huge blessing'
She said a Christmas visit to Lincoln more than a year before the surgery offered her the answer to helping her father. She noticed he was phycically and emotionally tired from undergoing dialysis three times a week since 2000, shortly after his kidneys failed because of hypertension.

Beckley, Wendt’s only biological child, had to undergo blood work and other tests to ensure compatibility, as well as prove she was healthy — both physically and psychologically — before the transplant was approved.

“We were just going to trust that if this wasn’t supposed to happen, that God was going to make one of us not be an ... appropriate donor or recipient,” she said.

Medicare and a secondary insurance covered all but about $1,000 of the procedure, Wendt said. Kidney transplants typically costs between $90,000 and $150,000, Nebraska Medical Center officials said.

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Within four weeks of the surgery Beckley, who had no expenses, was back at work as a pediatric speech and language pathologist.

“From my viewpoint, it really wasn’t a great sacrifice,” Beckley said in a telephone interview. “It just was a huge blessing to have the opportunity to do it.”

She speaks glowingly of her father — of his determination, compassion and generosity.

“He taught me the blessings that you get for having those kind of qualities,” Beckley said.

Wendt contends his daughter has those traits that she so admires in him, particularly generosity.

Wendt, who is a retired food manufacturing company president, is easing back into a lifestyle that includes playing bridge and attending civic organization luncheons. He also hopes to return to the putting greens soon.

“I just think I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve had a good life.”

Since the operation, father and daughter are closer. They call each other almost every day instead of once a week. “We just touch base more often now,” Beckley said.

And they can continue growing closer knowing they now share more than a few personality traits.

“He’s teasingly said he’ll always have me as part of him,” Beckley said.

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