Woman Going Strong 48 Years After Kidney Transplant

On Oct. 12, Marcella Menkveld always has dinner plans. That’s when she goes out to celebrate the day she was given a new lease on life when she received a life-saving kidney transplant in 1964.

At the time, she was 35 years old with two young children. Now, she’s 83 and going strong, with grandson in training to be a pastor.

Menkveld could be a walking billboard advertising the power of organ donation, as the nation’s sixth longest surviving kidney transplant recipient, according to Michael Cecka of the UCLA Immunogenetics Center.

With April the official National Donate Life Month, Tucson Medical Center is one of the hospitals teaming up with Donor Network of Arizona to work toward a goal of getting 500,000 people in Arizona registered as organ and tissue donors as part of a nationwide campaign.

One organ donor can save up to eight people, and an organ, tissue and cornea donor can save and heal the lives of up to 50 people. In 2011, 168 Arizonans donated organs, saving the lives of 477 people, according to Kris Patterson, a spokeswoman for Donor Network of Arizona.

But with 2,200 Arizonans still waiting for a transplant, there’s still work to be done.

Menkveld, who was born with just one kidney, was healthy until she was 35, when her kidney was no longer able to perform the vital function of removing waste products and excess fluid from the body. With few services in Arizona, her doctors chose to fly her to Denver, still in her robe and pajamas, where she would receive a transplant.

The first successful kidney transplant had been done just a decade earlier, according to statistics from the National Kidney Foundation.

Menkveld would be in the hospital from August until around Thanksgiving.

Of Menkveld’s three siblings, Martha, her older sister by six years, was the closest match. She, too, is still healthy and doing well at 89 this year.

The four sisters had always been close, Menkveld recalled, since their mother passed away when she was just 7. But the bond deepened with the transplant and her sister’s generosity, she said.

“I was so glad to be able to be with my children again and see them grow up, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do that. I was very grateful,” said Menkveld, who still takes anti-rejection medication.

Volunteers will staff tables at the TMC cafeteria and Peppers Café occasionally throughout the next two weeks to sign up donors, but donors can always sign up online at www.DonateLifeAZ.org. Make sure to choose TMC under the “How’d you hear about us?” drop down box.

Menkveld, meanwhile, is doing her best to spread the message. She was at her mailbox one recent afternoon when a passerby saw the “Be an Organ Donor” message on the license plate holder on her Ford Contour.

He shared that his wife donated her organs when she passed and that he will be donating his as well when the time comes.
“I told him, ‘Good! I’m a recipient. I can’t tell you how important it is.’”

And on Oct. 12, she’ll have plenty of life to celebrate. Her grandson is getting married that day.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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