Patient Story: Toshiko, Kidney Transplantation

I enjoy having my life back.

The vibrancy of Toshiko Linton, 82, supports the notion that transplant surgery doesn’t need to have age limits. In the spring of 2010, at the age of 80, Toshiko received a transplanted kidney, and, following a smooth recovery, has continued to make very good use of her gift.

A Good Match

Linton’s surgeon, Stefan G. Tullius, MD, PhD, FACS, chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery, believes that Toshiko’s smooth recovery is due, in large part, to her receiving a kidney from a donor close to her age. This is supported by a recent Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) study, led by Dr. Tullius, that found that matching donor and recipient age improves outcomes.

“Toshiko received an organ from an older donor, which allowed her to receive a kidney transplant earlier; moreover, as Toshiko is older, she required fewer anti-rejection medications and had a very positive transplant outcome,” said Dr. Tullius.

Dr. Tullius is optimistic that these findings could ultimately lead to an improved donor matching process, which currently is largely based on the recipient’s position on the waiting list.

“Right now, 70-year-old patients are competing with 20-year-old patients for the same organs,” Dr. Tullius said. “Our research supports a proposal to change the way that we allocate donor organs. We’ve found that when the donor and recipient are more closely matched in age, we are using each organ in the most efficient and best way.”

Dr. Tullius’s research also found that donated organs tend to survive better in older patients. This is attributable to a reduced immune response in older patients, which leads to lower rates of organ rejection.

The Call She Had Been Waiting For

After suffering kidney failure, Toshiko was put on dialysis – a mechanical procedure that takes over waste processing duties for failing kidneys. Although the dialysis was effective, Toshiko wanted the independence that she could have with a new kidney. Thus, she decided to move ahead with the transplant evaluation process at BWH. This involves meeting the kidney transplant team and undergoing testing to determine whether a patient is healthy enough to be placed on the kidney transplant waiting list. Following her evaluation with the multidisciplinary team at the Schuster Transplant Center, Toshiko was thrilled when she heard the news that she was, in fact, a suitable candidate for a transplant.

After only a few months of dialysis, she received a call from BWH on April 21, 2010 – a day that she now marks on her calendar as a special anniversary. “I was just finishing my breakfast with my son, and they asked me if I could come over right away,” says Toshiko. “So we dropped everything.”

When Toshiko arrived at the hospital, the entire kidney transplant team was ready for her. The operation went very smoothly, and after less than a week of recovery and observation, Toshiko returned home. Her health since has been excellent, and she now only returns to the hospital for checkups twice a year.

Using Her Gift

Life has been quite a journey for Toshiko and her husband, Alton (Al) Linton, and they’re glad that the journey will continue without dialysis. “I enjoy having my life back,” says Toshiko.

She met Al, who was in the U.S. Army at the time, in Tokyo, Japan during the late 1940s. After dating for several years, they were married at a Shinto shrine in 1951. Al returned to the U.S. that same year, and Toshiko followed soon after.

“In those days, they didn’t fly us,” explains Toshiko. “We came on a ship. It took us 10 days to cross from Yokohama to San Francisco.” More than 60 years and three kids – Arthur, Linda, and Andrew – later, Toshiko and Al are both living a happy and active life together in Lakeville, a small town in southeastern Massachusetts.

And being determined not to waste her gift, she and Al planned a particularly special trip for earlier this year. After visiting Hawaii to enjoy the sunshine and see their daughter, they returned to Japan to hold hands at the shrine where they were married more than 60 years ago.

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