Kim and Thomas Duncan of Jackson, Tenn., prepare for surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville on February 14. Thomas has a rare disease requiring him to have a kidney transplant, and Kim turned out to be a match.(Photo: Steven S. Harman, The Tennessean)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thomas and Kim Duncan made a hospital room more loving than a romantic hotel on Valentine's Day.
Instead of sexy underwear, they put on matching hospital gowns and waited to go into surgery Thursday morning at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where Kim gave her husband of 25 years a kidney. The Jackson, Tenn., couple said they are blessed because she is a transplant match.
"What better day to show God's love as much as our love?" said Kim Duncan, 48, before they were wheeled back to the operating room.
Thomas Duncan, 49, considers himself a lucky man. Besides having a beautiful wife willing to give him one of her kidneys, he has twice before received the gift of this vital organ. He asked people who have not signed up to be organ donors to do so this Valentine's Day -- which is National Donor Day -- and share the love.
More than 117,000 people are waiting for an organ, with nearly 92,000 waiting for a kidney, according to the Division of Transplantation which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"I've been on both sides of the fence," he said. "I've been on a dialysis machine three days a week knowing that's what I had to do to sustain life. It is a life, but it's just a way of sustaining life. It's not really an enjoyable self-fulfilled life. A kidney transplant opens everything totally back up to where you can go back to being 90 percent of the person you were before all of it happened."
By Thursday afternoon, both were out of the operating room and doing well, said Jessica Pasley, an information officer with Vanderbilt hospital.
Diagnosed with a kidney disease called mesangioproliferative glomerulonephritis at age 34, Thomas Duncan received his first kidney transplant in 2001 from a deceased donor.
According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, glomerulonephritis is the inflammation of the membrane tissue in the kidney that works as a filter to separate waste and fluids from the blood. The disease eventually leads to kidney failure.
In 2003, Duncan received his second kidney transplant in Tennessee's first paired donation. Patricia Dempsey, a neighbor and friend, wanted to give him a kidney at the same time Melissa Floyd wanted to give one to her mother. Tests determined they weren't good matches for their intended recipients but a cross-match would work in this case. Vanderbilt arranged the state's first double-swap transplant that year. Duncan received Floyd's kidney, and Dempsey donated hers to Floyd's mother.
'It's just a blessing'
Duncan was a healthy man in his early 20s working at a deli with video arcades in Jackson when he first met his future wife.
"We had an eye for each other but didn't say a whole lot," he said. "Little did we know, years later we would start dating and 25 years later we would be doing this."
The Valentine's Day transplant surgery for the Duncans was originally scheduled for two weeks ago, but he twisted his ankle that morning. Transplant recipients are required to be able to walk after surgery.
It is not uncommon for people with kidney disease to need multiple transplants. Unless there is a organ rejection problem, patients generally have a 72 percent of keeping a kidney more than five years if it is their first transplant, according the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, with the odds being 66.8 percent with a repeat transplant.
"It's just a blessing to get one," he said.