Congressman recovering with son's kidney

Living donation surgery performed in Baltimore to save Spence, 72

May 31, 2000|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

Twelve years ago, Congressman Floyd D. Spence of South Carolina overcame emphysema when he received two healthy lungs from an 18-year-old boy who died in a motorcycle accident. Today, he owes his life to someone else: his 46-year-old son, David, a fitness instructor and kick boxer who yielded one of his kidneys Friday in a living donation at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"I feel very privileged and blessed that it was I who was chosen to do this thing," David Spence said yesterday as he stood beside his beaming father. "I went into this without any question. It was all part of a plan."

Both father and son said they were doing fine, neither suffering any effects worse than a twinge where the incisions were made. David Spence was discharged Sunday and his father yesterday.

Spence, the 72-year-old chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, had been suffering from kidney failure for several months and recently began dialysis to stave off deadly symptoms. His kidneys were damaged over the years by high doses of anti-rejection drugs he was taking for his transplanted lungs.

The congressman said he could have received the kidney transplant weeks earlier but postponed it until the Memorial Day weekend so he could shepherd the 2001 military authorization bill through the House. The bill passed May 18.

On Friday, the congressman and his son lay in adjoining operating rooms.

First, Dr. Stephen Jacobs removed a healthy kidney from the younger Spence, sliding it out of a tiny slit near his waist in a minimally invasive procedure known as a laparoscopy.

Jacobs rushed the organ in an ice-filled bowl down a short corridor, handing it off to transplant surgeon Dr. Stephen Bartlett.

Bartlett left the failing kidneys in place, placing the new organ in the elder Spence's lower abdomen where he tied it to blood vessels that run up and down the right leg.

"They are not helping or hurting anything," the surgeon said of the original organs.

David Spence's operation was the 491st laparoscopic kidney donation performed at the University of Maryland in the past four years - far and away the largest number done at any hospital in the United States, said Bartlett.

The procedure speeds recovery, making it easier for family members or friends to donate. It also lessens the demand on scarce kidneys from brain-dead patients.

"That's the big story," Spence said. "A lot of people die waiting for a kidney. They're waiting and waiting and waiting. If we can encourage other people to donate this way, it would help greatly."

The University of Maryland Medical Center has the largest kidney transplant center in the country, having recently surpassed the University of Alabama in patient volume.

Doctors said the congressman's new kidney shouldn't suffer the same fate as his old ones. Anti-rejection drugs a decade ago were not as effective as today's and thus were given in higher doses. Spence will now be taking drugs in smaller, safer doses.

A former football player at the University of Mississippi, Spence looked ruddy and vigorous yesterday and said he was ready to return to Congress next week.

"They've just told me not to do any heavy lifting," he said.

His son, a medical equipment salesman in South Carolina who teaches fitness on the side, must give up kick boxing so as not to jeopardize his remaining kidney.

Before the two were wheeled into surgery Friday, the younger Spence told his father, "I'm going to throw you a pass and you make sure you catch it," David Spence recounted yesterday.

He said his father's first words to him later that day were, "Hey, Dave, you know I caught it."

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