World record breaking kidney transplant

The kidney transplant that's lasted 50 years
21 July 2020

Interview with 

Angela Dunn, France & Roy Calne, Addenbrooke's Hospital


A first place trophy.


This week, 50 years ago, a young woman had a pioneering operation that undoubtedly saved her life. It was one of the first kidney transplants, and it was performed by Cambridge University surgeon Roy Calne. Half a century later, her now world-record-breaking transplant is still going strong and she's in fine health. Chris spoke to her, and Roy Calne, to hear their remarkable story...

Angela - My name is Angela Dunn. I'm 74 years old, will be 75 next month. And I have had my transplant for almost 50 years, 50 years next week. I had scarlet fever three times when I was young, and also erysipelas. And then it was obvious that there was something seriously the matter with my kidneys. My health was deteriorating. I had a period when I was vomiting every other day, I had very high blood pressure, bleeding in my eyes.

Chris - How did it then escalate, so that you ended up on a transplant waiting list?

Angela - Well, my condition deteriorated, I had very high blood pressure that was virtually uncontrollable, went into a coma and it was decided that the only thing to do was to take my kidneys out, and then I had to start dialysis.

Chris - What was that like?

Angela - Horrible. And I found it very difficult. But the worst for me was the limit on fluids. Five or 600 ml a day is not a lot for a girl from Lancashire who likes a big cup of tea.

Chris - Yes. I imagine that would be quite a wrench. So your quality of life was down. You were on dialysis regularly and fluid restricting. And feeling probably exhausted all the time, which for someone in their early twenties, that's not really living, is it?

Angela - No, no. It was difficult. And it was very difficult for my husband as well.

Chris - So tell us about that day, the big day when it all happened.

Angela - We lived about a mile from the hospital and so about seven o'clock at night, the doctor came to the door, my consultant, and said: "the kidney is on its way, pack a bag and come up to the hospital. And Professor Calne is coming from Addenbrooke's.

Chris - Addenbrooke's is Cambridge University's teaching hospital. And Roy Calne was professor of surgery there. And one of the pioneers of organ transplantation in the UK.

Roy - News came through that there was a kidney from a road traffic accident victim, and it was the right blood group for her. I went and saw her and she said: "you've got to do it".

Chris - But there was a very good reason why Roy Calne and his surgical team needed to come halfway across the country to Angela.

Angela - Because I was dialyzed in the same room as somebody who it was thought had hepatitis B. And hepatitis B at that time was absolutely terrifying for every renal unit and transfusion service in the country. And so Addenbrooke's would not have me through the door.

Chris - Luckily Angela's husband, Eric, came to the rescue.

Roy - Angela had a husband who was an RAF fighter pilot. So he asked if he could help. So I told him, well transport's the main thing. And he said that he could get my team there because he had access to an aircraft. So he was the taxi driver there and back.

Chris - So the RAF flew you and your surgical team to do the operation?

Roy - RAF Poulton.

Chris - So the RAF pulled some strings?

Roy - Very important strings.

Chris - Roy Calne did that surgery. Angela, luckily didn't have hepatitis B. And the outcome was a successful one.

Angela - It took eight days for the kidney actually to work. I have to say that after four months of not "spending a penny", it was quite a strange sensation.

Chris - That must've been one of the most welcome wees that you've ever had!

Angela - Absolutely. [giggle]

Chris - And how have you managed since? What has happened to you since?

Angela - A normal, healthy, happy life. And from 1978 onwards, I competed for Cambridge in the transplant games.

Chris - What was your event?

Angela - I ran the longer distances, and I swam. And I occasionally played table tennis.

Chris - Did you win?

Angela - Yes. Quite a lot.

Chris - You're now at the half a century point since this all happened. Does that put you amongst one of the longest surviving transplant recipients? Are there any other people who are further down the track than you?

Angela - I am told, but I have no proof of this, that my kidney is the longest cadaver kidney in the world.

Chris - So not only did you get a record on the transplant games, you're also in the Guinness Book of Records potentially for the longest surviving transplant?

Angela - Yes. I'm not entirely sure that I wanted an accolade like that actually! Not something I would seek.


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