CUMBERLAND — Still going strong 38 years after a life-saving kidney transplant, George Franklin III of Cumberland is thought of as the second longest living African-American transplant recipient in the Unites States.
“I feel great,” said Franklin, 59, who received his kidney transplant in 1975.
A retired computer operator, Franklin has become closely involved with the transplant community and has become a source for many seeking information on transplants and donation.
“I just have to remember that parts of me are 72,” Franklin said.
When he received his transplant, Franklin was 21. The female donor, who died in an auto accident, was 34.
“I have a relationship with the donor’s family even today. It’s something you can do.”
Franklin is the the founder and CEO of the Quarter Century Club.
“George is very informative. He has the answers and if he doesn’t he will help you find it,” said Essie Wilson, 61, a friend of Franklin from Fort Washington, who has had two kidney transplants herself.
Although it varies, according to Franklin, the average lifespan for a transplanted kidney is nine to 10 years.
The QCC tracks recipients across the country who have had transplants for 25 or more years.
“It’s difficult to find information due to confidentiality laws, but we have about 68 members in the club now,” said Franklin.
Franklin said he has a friend in Buffalo, N.Y., named Michele who has had 35 years with her transplanted kidney.
Within the transplant community, the number of years a transplanted kidney continues to function for the recipient is known as “tenure.”
Now tenured for 38 years, Franklin was asked why he thought his kidney has lasted so long, against the odds.
“I think it is in the accuracy of the match. The medication you are on also makes a difference,” said Franklin.
Franklin said that the kidney that was found for him was basically a perfect match.
It was a match for blood and tissue type and other important physiological factors, according to Franklin.
Franklin, originally from Washington, D.C., was born with one kidney. He went into renal failure right after high school.
“My first transplant in April of 1975 was from President Gerald Ford’s wife Betty’s, press secretary’s husband. It didn’t take. Six months later I had the transplant that worked,” said Franklin.
A common thread that many long term transplant survivors share is their belief that a positive attitude and getting support helps.
“Meeting others that have had transplants is important. You can share things that you can’t with anyone else,” said Christine Wilson, 55, of Silver Spring, who had simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplants.
Christine Wilson’s kidneys were damaged by diabetes.
“My mother, my twin sister and my faith have kept me going,” said Christine Wilson.
She had an identical twin sister who passed away from renal failure.
“I think success is in compliance. You have to take your medications, eat right and educate yourself,” said Essie Wilson, who takes the immune suppression drugs Prograff and Cellcept.
“My mother and my faith have been my rock. I accepted Christ into his life. He will not leave my side,” Franklin said.
He said he takes only two medications: methylprednisone and azathioprine.
“The medications that are given today are more toxic,” Franklin said.
Since advances in medicine and technology have made compiling transplant and donor lists much more streamlined, it has become easier to identify those needing transplants and their perspective donors.
With the advances in treatment, procurement and communication, the demand for organ transplants have increased.
This has placed more pressure to expedite transplants, which has caused a lowering of standards for making a match, according to Franklin.
To compensate for reduced matching criteria, the newer, stronger medicines are being relied on to help make the transplants work.
Sitting back and enjoying life for Franklin has not been an option, he said.
He participates in the olympic-style athletic event held every other year called the Transplant Games. They are held in different cities in the U.S. each year.
Franklin, who has been competing in swimming and bowling since 1980, has won seven medals, including one gold.
A spokesman for many transplant organizations, Franklin was asked what drives him to stay so active.
“How do you thank that person who gave you life? You do it by thanking everyone,” said Franklin.
“It goes back to the old saying, ‘To whom much is given, much is required,’” he said.
For more information on transplants and donors, visit LLF.org or call 1-800-641-HERO.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org