Published: Apr. 2, 2010
Updated: May 19, 2010
In June 1965, Bill Blackburn was a young father and high school counselor when congestive heart failure and glomerular nephritis (GN), a condition that inflames renal blood vessels, landed him in Duke University Hospital.
That September, Blackburn underwent Duke’s second-ever kidney transplant -- performed by surgeon Delford Stickel, MD, in collaboration with nephrologist J. Caulie Gunnells Jr., MD -- after his sister donated a tissue-compatible kidney. By December, he was back at work.
In the 15 years that followed, Blackburn did incredibly well, carefully following doctors’ orders and taking his medications. “I never had a rejection episode and missed only two days of work during that time -- and that was due to laryngitis,” he says.
A GN recurrence in the transplanted kidney led to the need for re-transplantation, which was performed with a cadaveric kidney in 1980 by Duke surgeon R. Randal Bollinger, MD, PhD.
Blackburn, now 77, still takes the same immunosuppressant drugs prescribed after his first transplant, and although he has experienced side effects from those drugs, his second transplanted kidney seems to be going strong. He sees Duke nephrologist David Butterly, MD, for biannual checkups.
“I really got in on the ground floor of Duke’s kidney transplant program,” Blackburn says. “It’s been phenomenal to have so much experience with a program that has remained on the forefront of this field and evolved so extensively.”