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Atlanta man is longest living kidney transplant survivor, but he now needs a new donor

Back in 1970, at just 18-years-old, White was looking forward to playing football at Auburn University, but a mandatory physical exam would change his life.

ATLANTA — Georgia native Steve White was one of the first patients to receive a kidney transplant at Emory Hospital. Now, he is back on the list, waiting for a new donor. 

Back in 1970, at just 18-years-old, White was looking forward to playing football at Auburn University, but a mandatory physical exam and urinalysis would completely change his life.

“Well, he told them that I had an incurable kidney disease, and that was kind of the first record,” White said. 

White was diagnosed with kidney failure, and although he was cleared to play his freshman year, he started to feel unusually sick by his sophomore year.

“I tried to go back to school for the following fall quarter that I started feeling sick, and within two weeks of starting school back my sophomore year, I called my parents one night and I said, I can't do this. I'm just too sick, and started having all the symptoms of kidney failure.”  

At the time, kidney transplants were an incredibly risky surgery and did not have a significantly high success rate. White remembers that his doctor told him there was a 75% success rate but found out two other patients receiving a transplant on the same floor as him had died from the operation.

Credit: Provided
Newspaper from 1972 when Steve White received kidney transplant

Luckily, he found a guaranteed match that was very close to home. With an extremely rare tissue match between White and his father, his dad became his donor.

Finally, in 1972, White received his kidney transplant, and out of everyone who had the surgery, he was the only one on his floor who lived through it. 

Recovery was not that easy though, as White experienced various post-surgery complications, including an infected heart valve.

“I had a fair amount of problems, had one little bout or my kidney tried to reject, but they quickly got it back under control. But then I developed some sort of infection that they could not figure out, and I spent the best part of the summer at Emory with a really bad infection," White explained.

Credit: Provided
Steve White and his family at Wilderness Wonderland in Florida

“But once they figured out that it turned out to be an infected heart valve. Once they figured that out, which was toward the end of the summer, I could clear it up and I have not had any trouble whatsoever, in a sense.”

From then on, he experienced no complications, and the successful transplant allowed him to live a life as a commercial construction worker, filled with Irish coffee and Disney trips with his daughters Heather and Kelly. 

However, in 2016, after his retirement, White experienced the first signs that his transplant might be deteriorating.

“In 2016, it was the first time that my function was less than it was the year before. And so I knew then that, hey, we're getting close to the end of this,” White said. 

He is now in stage four kidney failure and on the waiting list to receive another transplant from a donor. However, he is hopeful and looks forward to getting back to doing the things he loves.

“So I want to, if I can, to get back to the point where I can now take my grandson bird hunting. If I can take him hiking on the Appalachian Trail like I used to love to do or just go hang out in the woods and just, you know, that's my happy place. 

Still, with 50 years since his surgery, White is able to say he is the longest living kidney transplant survivor in the U.S.

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