June 18, 2004

Man gets a new kidney for 66th birthday; is VUMC’s 3,000th kidney recipient

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Robert Strimple will celebrate his 66th birthday tomorrow, just days after being VUMC’s 3,000th kidney transplant recipient. Photo by Dana Johnson

Man gets a new kidney for 66th birthday; is VUMC’s 3,000th kidney recipient

At age 65, Robert Strimple got his best birthday present ever — a new kidney.

It was a gift he had wished for but didn’t expect to come true.

Strimple celebrates his 66th birthday on June 19. The icing on the cake: He was the 3,000th kidney transplant for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which has had a longstanding contract to serve patients at the Tennessee Valley Health Systems facility.

“It’s a great example of not giving up hope,” he said four days after his transplant at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Nashville. “Because of my age, I just figured I wouldn’t be a good candidate. I always thought a younger person needed it more.

“I was completely surprised when they called to tell me. I’m so grateful,” he said.

On June 10 around 8 a.m., Strimple received a phone call that a kidney was available. Within one hour, he and his wife Martha were packed. They had a 90-mile trek from their home in High Springs Fla. to the Jacksonville airport. The transplant was scheduled for 8 p.m.

“The doctors said the kidney was a perfect match,” said his wife of 43 years, Martha. “It was a very healthy kidney. We just thank the Lord for all of this. It’s because of the prayers of hundreds of people that this has happened.”

Vanderbilt’s kidney transplant program began in 1962. In 2003, the combined Vanderbilt/VA program transplanted 133 kidneys. Since the start of 2004, 64 have been transplanted.

“It’s a great milestone for the Transplant Center,” said William A. Nylander, Jr., M.D., associate professor of Surgery and chief, Surgical Services at the Tennessee Valley Health Systems (VA).

“It’s something to celebrate here in Nashville,” Nylander said. “Mr. Strimple has a great prognosis.”

Since Strimple was 24, physicians have kept a close eye on the progression of his polycystic kidneys. The hereditary disease killed his mother and has affected two of his four daughters.

For four years, he has received dialysis treatment and had been on the waiting list for a kidney for two years. Nylander said that Strimple’s age was never a factor in keeping him from receiving a kidney.

Polycystic kidneys lead to renal failure after cysts overtake the organs. It’s a common disorder, and patients usually do very well with transplant, Nylander said.

Strimple, a retired police officer with the Gainesville VA, was released from the hospital on Monday. For the next two weeks, he will recuperate at the Guest House and attend several clinics before heading back home, where he will be followed.

Routine check-ups will be done in Nashville. There are only four VA sites with transplant centers. Strimple said he is looking forward to getting home where he is involved with church and the Christian Motorcycle Association.