Michael's 50 years of health after transplant

Michael Phillips, who had a kidney transplant 50 years ago. He is pictured in front of a banner saying 'happy 50th anniversary' and is wearing a mask

Published on 11 June 2021

It was the year Walt Disney World opened in Florida, the UK moved to decimal currency, and singer Mariah Carey was born.

But for Michael Phillips, 1971 was significant for a different reason – in July that year he received a kidney transplant.

Fifty years on, the donated organ is still working well and Mr Phillips, now a grandfather, is enjoying a fit and healthy life including regular games of racquetball, badminton and table tennis as a member of the Saxon Shore U3A group.

The retired construction professional, who lives in Whitstable, is thought to be one of the longest-surviving kidney transplant patients and credits the advice from his medical teams for it.

He said: “After the transplant I was very nervous about my health but my doctor was fantastic and I vowed I would not waste the second chance I had been given.

“I decided to always do whatever she suggested and religiously take the drugs prescribed.

“To this day I still follow that vow and embrace anything the team at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital advise.”

Mr Phillips first became ill in February 1971, when his kidneys suddenly became inflamed and then stopped working. He was initially treated at Shoreditch hospital, with his parents travelling from their home in Bromley to visit. But a chance conversation between his father and a contractor who was on site to check the fire extinguishers revealed there was a renal unit at Dulwich hospital, which was closer.

He was transferred to Dulwich and after peritoneal cavity dialysis – a process where the lining of the stomach is used to filter someone’s blood – he was moved onto the dialysis machine, with three nine-hour sessions every week. The medical team began the search for a donor after tests revealed unfortunately no one in his family was a suitable match.

Then in July that year, medics made an early morning call to his parents to say a kidney was available, and he and his mother made the trip to Brighton for the operation.

Mr Phillips said: “The fantastic transplant surgeon Mr Michael Bewick collected me and mum from the station in his souped-up Cortina and drove me to Brighton hospital.

“The family were sworn to secrecy as to where I was and what was about to happen.

“All I knew about the donor was that it was a fairly young guy who had died, I think from a brain haemorrhage.

“The older I get, the more I think about how fantastic that family were to donate his kidney and to give me a second chance.”

Mr Phillips spent time in intensive care after the operation, before being transferred back to Dulwich Hospital and then allowed to go home. He went back to work two months later and led a normal life, going on to marry and have three children who now have children of their own.

He said: “I was lucky enough to be in the second tranche of transplants, where the survival rate was much higher and the medication refined.

“I still think about the donor, and it would be nice to let that family know how things turned out and the difference it made to my life, but I imagine his parents are long-gone now.

“I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to that family and to the surgeons, doctors, nurses and healthcare specialists I have met since 1971.

“The transplant gave me my life back after dialysis, and I am determined to keep on living it to the full.”

Mr Phillips now has regular check-ups at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, and staff organised a cake, banner and balloons to mark his 50th anniversary. 

Transplant Nurse Manager Lucy Greenfield said: “It is quite unusual to have a patient who received a kidney from a deceased donor to have survived for 50 years without needing another transplant.

“We would normally expect a kidney to last for 10 to 15 years after transplant, and 15 to 20 years if it was from a living donor.

“Mr Phillips is doing fantastically well and is a model patient who always follows our advice, leads a healthy life and takes his medication and we look forward to looking after him for many years to come.”