Kidney Transplant at 84, Chicago Artist Proves New Start Possible at Any Age
Nearly six years of dialysis finally began to take a heavy toll on 84-year-old Juan Guano. The constant fatigue left him with little energy to spend on his art, and he was unable to travel, which is a major source of inspiration to him. The vibrant senior maintains an active regimen as the patriarch to an expansive family. He’s the father of four, grandfather of five and great-grandfather of six. As recent as five or seven years ago, Guano’s prospects for receiving a kidney transplant would have been incredibly limited. However, following his referral to the experienced transplant team of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, he can now claim the title of being the hospital’s oldest kidney recipient.
“It’s not as uncommon as it once was to transplant patients ages 70 and older,” says the hospital’s Chief of the Division of Organ Transplantation, Michael Abecassis, MD. “Due to inroads made in expanded criteria organ donation, for patients like Mr. Guano transplant is a therapeutic option that may not have been possible until recently.” Surgeons at Northwestern Memorial have performed nearly 3,000 kidney transplants since the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) began tracking data in 1988. For the past two years, Northwestern has been the nation’s largest living donor kidney transplant program, according to UNOS.
Guano received his kidney from an expanded-criteria donor, a category of deceased donors with certain characteristics that may make them less than ideal as organ donors. Expanded-criteria organs are only offered to patients who consent to be offered such organs at the time they are listed for transplant. Donors in this category are normally 60 years of age or older, or ages 50 to 59 with a history of high blood pressure or who die of stroke.
Currently there are over 100,000 people waiting for organ transplants, and expanded criteria donor kidneys are an increasingly important alternative to help narrow the gap between the number of transplant candidates and available organs. “This type of kidney isn’t the right option for all patients, but in this situation, this kidney was a good option for Mr. Guano and allowed him to get off of dialysis,” comments Juan Carlos Caicedo, MD, transplant surgeon and director of the Hispanic Transplant Program. “As always, if we don't think it's a good kidney, we don't offer it.”
“The kidney allocation process is complex. This is a good example of an age-matched kidney transplant, or a situation in which we were able to transplant an elderly patient who may not have received a kidney from a younger or standard criteria donor,” comments John Friedewald, MD, transplant nephrologist and vice chair of the UNOS committee reviewing the kidney allocation process.
Guano’s surgery was a success. Dixon Kaufman, MD, who performed the kidney transplant on Father’s Day, June 21st, commented, “It was an easy decision to go ahead with the transplant when he presented to the hospital for the surgery because he had taken good care of himself up to that time. Not surprisingly, he recuperated from the transplant surgery very well.” Guano was up and walking around just hours after his operation; and was discharged to go home two days later. In addition, the only pain medication he’s taking is Tylenol. “He’s recovering just as well as transplant recipients half of his age,” says Caicedo.
Guano returned to his studio only four days after his transplant to continue working on a series of metal sculptures called ‘Los Hijos del Sol’ or ‘Children of the Sun’, to be displayed in Ecuador upon its completion. He comments, “I’m very thankful to the doctors for helping me get to this point. I may be 84, but I feel like a young man and I have much left that I want to accomplish.”