Colorado cowboy's kidney is nearly 101 years old

Ann Wright
The Daily Sentinel via AP
Ag Life

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo — Nearly every morning, Daniel Lane can be found drinking coffee at the Montrose Travel Center north of town.

“We go down there and talk about everybody,” said the 74-year-old Montrose resident. They cover politics, current events and the weather. Like him, the dozen or so guys he meets all have ranching and agricultural backgrounds.

On Thursdays, Lane goes to the Delta Sales Yard for the livestock sales and to visit with all the old cowboys. “It’s kind of in my blood,” the bachelor said.

In his cowboy hat and boots, he fits right in. But get to know Lane a little better, and you’ll find he is actually unique.

Lane has a kidney that is nearly 101 years old.

It was his mother’s kidney, donated to Lane 50 years ago when kidney transplants were still considered more experimental than anything.

Given that 15 years is the average number of years a living-donor transplanted kidney continues to function well, “this is pretty unusual,” said Dr. Joseph Harawi, Lane’s nephrologist in Grand Junction.

Lane is likely in possession of one of the longest-surviving transplanted kidneys in the world, and the fact that it is still functioning normally is downright remarkable, Harawi said.

“I never kept it a secret, but I’ve never elaborated about it much,” Lane said.

'Everything in stride'

Lane grew up in the Montrose area, the second of Ken and Evelyn Lane’s six children.

He has a congenital defect that likely led to kidney disease, and after a severe bout with influenza, his kidneys failed.

He was about 22 when a physician sat down at the edge of his hospital bed and told him, “You’re going to die,” Lane recalled. “I didn’t answer him right away, and he got mad at me.”

That doctor’s bedside manner was terrible, he said, shaking his head.

Lane began hemodialysis at home at his family’s ranch on Shinn Park, high above Montrose to the east. Lane, his mother and a sister were trained on how to perform hemodialysis at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver.

Every third day, Lane would work on the ranch until noon, and after lunch he would hook himself up to a dialysis machine through a shunt in his left leg. For the next six hours, the machine would clean his blood.

“It would drain your energy,” he said.

But he never thought it wouldn’t work. “At that time, you just took everything in stride,” Lane said.

Then a young doctor in Denver told Lane that he was a good candidate for a transplant.

'The most willing one'

The first successful living donor kidney transplants were between twins in the 1950s, Harawi said.

In fact, the 73-year-old Canadian woman who currently has the Guinness World Record as the longest surviving kidney transplant patient received her kidney from her identical twin in 1960.

It was in the 1960s that anti-rejection medications allowed for transplants between relatives, Harawi said.

So physicians turned to Lane’s immediate family for a kidney donation. “My mom was the best match for blood type and tissue type. And she was the most willing one, like moms are,” Lane said.

Evelyn Lane was a homemaker and busy ranch wife. Whenever cattle needed to be moved, she wanted to be there. “She was the chuckwagon,” Lane said.

Her homemade gravy with hamburger was absolutely delicious, Lane said, the memory of the taste bringing a smile to his face.

“She was slow to anger, but when she did ... look out,” he said.

“She never really expressed herself about a lot of things,” and that included the kidney transplant, Lane said.

Giving her son a kidney was simply another way she was taking care of her little boy, he said.

'A major overhaul'

Before being cleared for his transplant, Lane had to undergo a lot of medical tests. “I even had to talk to a psychologist,” he said.

He did his best, but the psychologist told him, “Talking to you is like pulling taffy out of a cat’s mouth,” Lane said.

Lane’s kidney transplant surgery took place on May 10, 1971. Lane was 24, and his mother was 50.

It was performed at the Veteran’s Affairs hospital across the street from the CU Medical Center in Denver by a team of physicians led by Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, a pioneer in organ transplantation.

The surgery took 13 hours because of the amount of repair work that had to be done in Lane’s abdomen to address issues related to his congenital defect. “It was a major overhaul,” Lane said.

He recalled being in the recovery room and Starzl coming by to see him. “He asked me if I could lift my head and I couldn’t,” Lane said. Starzl told the nurse that Lane would be just fine, and then he left.

The first three days after surgery were a fog. “They probably had me doped up,” Lane said.

After that, Lane was moved to a large room where other transplant patients were being cared for — no private rooms, he said. However, Lane found it nice to meet other people who also had transplanted organs, among them was a 12-year-old girl and a man in his 70s.

Post-op, Lane’s mother had “no problems at all,” he said.

Lane also did well, however the high doses of anti-rejection mediation he was on, prednisone in particular, began eating away at his stomach lining despite the Maalox he was given.

Days before he was to be released from the hospital, he passed out and was rushed to the operating room. “They took out about a third of my stomach,” he said. “I guess I healed up from that OK.”

'I thank God'

After staying with an aunt in Denver for a while when he got out of the hospital, Lane returned home to the ranch. “I was very weak,” he said.

One day, he tried to jump a small ditch and barely made it across. Healing took time and every two weeks he had to return to Denver for follow up.

As the years went by, though, life went back to its normal rhythms for Lane. To this day he takes prednisone and Imuran, and while the side effects from those medications have taken their toll, his kidney is doing well.

“It’s caused me to behave myself ... stay away from alcohol and wild women,” he said with a grin.

Lane hasn’t had any restrictions, physical or dietary, and lived and worked on the ranch until his family lost it in a financial downturn in the 1980s. He opened a one-man sawmill on family property on what was then the edge of Montrose and made wooden furniture.

He has been able to travel and go on church mission trips: Alaska, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and Kenya. Going to Africa might be his favorite trip. “It was so different,” he said.

Lane’s mother died in 2014, and he continues to live on the family property as the city of Montrose has grown to the south and begun to surround the acreage.

Lane knows the longevity of his kidney is unique, but “I have never considered death an alternative,” he said. “I thank God for every day I have.”

'A worthwhile deal'

Somewhere among the three family physicians Lane has seen in the past 30 years or so, some of his medical records were lost. Nearly two years ago, his current physician recommended Lane see a nephrology specialist and that took Lane to Harawi’s office at Grand Mesa Nephrology.

“Boy, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” was the first thing Harawi told him, Lane said. “He’s amazed I’m still here.”

It’s true, Harawi said. “He’s done very well.”

Lane’s transplant history is amazing, particularly considering how uncomplicated his current medical history is, Harawi said.

The last time Lane saw Harawi, the physician noted that Lane’s blood pressure was up. “I told him I had two sisters,” Lane said.

Harawi has another patient who had a kidney transplant in 1978 that also has its unique points, but Lane story is notable because of the age of his kidney, he said.

Lane’s kidney will turn 101 on July 23, his mother’s birthday.

Even the Guinness World Record holder’s kidney isn’t as old as Lane’s. In his online research, Harawi found a story about 74-year-old woman living in France who had a kidney transplant in 1970, but the age of her kidney wasn’t included.

It would be difficult to determine if Lane has the oldest functioning transplanted kidney in the world, “but certainly Daniel’s situation is very unique and very unusual,” Harawi said.

It also goes to show that life expectancy after a kidney transplant can be longer than might be thought, he said, remarking on the importance of organ donors as the number of people waiting for a kidney transplant always outpaces the number of organs available.

Lane agreed, citing his own experience. “All in all, I think it was a worthwhile deal,” he said.