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Written by:
Kathryn Martin-Chambers
27 Jul 2020

A woman who had a life-saving kidney transplant back in 1970 celebrates 50 years of healthy active life.

Angela Dunn, now 74 and living in France, is thought to be the longest-surviving transplant* patient in the world, still leading a healthy life with the same kidney.

The operation was carried out on 25th July 1970 by Professor Sir Roy Calne, surgeon and pioneer of organ transplantation working at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Sir Roy was a Trinity Hall Fellow in Medicine from 1965 to 1998. He was knighted in 1986 and became an Honorary Fellow of Trinity Hall in 2000.

In 1970 Angela was surviving on dialysis and wasn’t expected to live much longer. At that time, it was widely thought that transplant recipients could only look forward to a short life as an invalid. She did not expect to live beyond 30 years old.

However, Angela’s life changed when she was offered a kidney from a man who died in a road traffic accident. She recalls: “For me it was a miracle. We were told the donor was from Birmingham, killed in a motor bike accident. What a generous family to give me a new life, whilst they were grieving.”

Professor Calne, widely known for developing a drug to prevent organ rejection, performed the operation at the RAF hospital at Halton where Angela was living, as a case of Hepatitis B on the base prevented her from travelling to Addenbrooke’s.

Half a century later, Angela is well and happy, with no dietary restrictions, nor any residential imperatives. For many years, from the inception of the Transplant Games, she competed for Cambridge and Great Britain.

“I have been very lucky,” says Angela, who now spends her time gardening, cooking and is deeply involved in organising events in her village near Cahors. “But you never have any certainty. I haven’t ever felt that there was any certainty.

“Before my operation I did not expect to make 30. I cannot express enough my gratitude to my donor‘s family, to Professor Sir Roy Calne, all the medical staff who have watched over me and to my husband Eric”.

Professor John Bradley, Trinity Hall Fellow, Consultant Nephrologist and Director of Research at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, worked with Sir Roy for many years. He remembers Sir Roy’s remarkable achievements, and the immense gratitude patients had for him.

John says: “He overcame many barriers to kidney transplantation, particularly in its early days. Perhaps most notable was the development of effective immunosuppression to prevent transplant rejection, a field he continued to advance throughout his career. For so many patients he changed their lives, and he always maintained a keen interest in their achievements. The 50th anniversary of Angela’s kidney transplant is yet another amazing success that could not have been achieved without his extraordinary skill and devotion to patients.”

*This is thought to be the world’s longest surviving cadaveric transplant, meaning that the organ came from a deceased donor. This is distinct from an organ donated from a living relative, where the genetic match makes it far more likely to be a success.