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Grandfather’s transplant believed to be in the top three longest surviving in the UK

08 June 2020

A man who is celebrating 49 years since his kidney transplant wants to spread a message of hope about how the operation transforms lives.

Dave Hudson Harvey was the first person to have the operation at Bart’s Hospital in London in 1971 and is believed to be in the top three people in the UK with the longest surviving kidney transplant.

The operation took him from a sick 21-year-old, who at the time was a bass player in a rock band, to getting his health back.

Dave Hudson Harvey
Dave Hudson Harvey

Dave, 70, said it meant he was able to enjoy a wonderful family life and a great career. He is now expecting the arrival of his third grandchild.

“I’m aware not everyone is as lucky as me,” Dave said, “but I wanted to help spread some hope for others on how a kidney transplant can last a long time and be life-changing.

“I am incredibly grateful for how the operation changed my life. I’d also like to spread a message to live life, give life. Anyone reading who wants to help, could always consider donating a kidney in the shared organ donor pool scheme, enabling you to be a living donor to change the life of a stranger.”

Dave was playing bass guitar in a band called Iron Maiden – three years before the famous band of the same name formed – and was enjoying a dream life.

“It was lots of fun, we would play gigs and muck about in the West End and it seemed like the best thing ever,” Dave said.

However, he was playing a gig with his band in the north of England when he became terribly sick.

“When I got home, my mum called the doctor. I was tired, ankles were retaining fluid. I just felt so ill.

“Eventually they found I had Alport Syndrome. It is a hereditary condition, so I had genetic testing. Kidney disease affected my hearing and my eyesight. My lens changed but I have since had an operation to correct that.

“When I had the diagnosis, I was living the high life and having a great time, so to find out I had kidney disease was like having the rug pulled from under my feet.

“Before my transplant, I was at home for three months at my parents’ place having dialysis. It was awful. I hated dialysis, cleaning the machines, going through that. I don’t know how people cope being on dialysis for a long time.”

The family had enjoyed Christmas Day, then on Boxing Day a call came. There had been a road traffic accident and there was a kidney waiting for Dave.

“I felt humble and grateful to be given this opportunity,” Dave said.

“I was the first person at Bart’s to have the operation so there was nobody before me to compare it to. It was ground-breaking surgery. It was a chance of a better life, but I was in unknown territory. However, at no point did I feel worried, nor did I fear I was going to die. I felt in safe hands.

“I stayed in hospital for three weeks after the operation and everyone who visited had to wear PPE like everyone does now for COVID-19.

“I was treated like some medical miracle. There are no guarantees with any transplant, but I want to give hope to others that a new kidney can last for many years.”

The surgery enabled Dave to meet his wife Anne, now sadly deceased, have two children and enjoy being a grandfather.

London-based Dave said: “I don’t think anybody expected the kidney to last 49 years, least of all me! It has just gone from one year, to a decade to 20 years, to now nearly half a century! I have had a great life and career and now I am still fit and well. I go to the gym, travel and have a great social life. I am grateful for my health which enables me to still live well.

“Two years ago, I had a triple bypass operation out of the blue. I was more scared for that than I was for the kidney transplant many years before!

Newspaper cutting from 1971

“It was hairier having a bypass operation, because patients are given a coloured liquid to show up details in the X rays. Kidneys don’t like it as it stops them working for a while. I was concerned about that, but fortunately the liquid flushed through fine. I couldn’t bear the thought of my kidney failing and me having to go on dialysis again.

“Everything I’ve been through has made me stronger as a person. In my latter years my experiences have made me very spiritual and I certainly feel very grateful for having the transplant all those years ago.”

Sandra Currie, CEO of Kidney Research UK, said: “Dave’s story is exceptional, and a delight to read. It is incredible to see how it transformed life for Dave and his family. However, as Dave said not everybody is as lucky, which is why research is so important – we are supporting the Organ Donation and Transplant Research Network to give as many people as possible living with kidney disease the opportunity to enjoy healthier lives for longer.”

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