Survivor's journey


POSTED: Wednesday, August 05, 2009
This story has been corrected.  See below.

Jeanette Chong was on kidney dialysis in her late 20s when Dr. Livingston Wong talked to her about a possible organ transplant.

That was 38 years ago.

The Pacific Heights woman is the longest-living recipient of a kidney transplant from a deceased donor in the United States, according to “;Clinical Transplants 2008”; by Dr. Paul Terasaki, UCLA medical professor emeritus and pioneer in tissue transfer research.

Chong said she was the fifth patient on dialysis at the former St. Francis Medical Center, now Hawaii Medical Center-East. A childhood infection had developed antibodies attacking her kidney.

Wong was just beginning an organ transplant program in Hawaii with three other doctors, Arnold Siemsen, Herbert Chinn and Young K. Paik. “;We were selecting patients on dialysis, young ones, and asked if they were interested in taking a chance on a transplant,”; Wong recalled.

He said Hawaii's organ transplantation program evolved because of “;patients like Jeanette who took a chance. She didn't know me from Adam, whether to trust me or not.”;

The first successful kidney transplants, both from living and deceased donors, were done in 1954 and 1962 by Dr. Joseph Murray and Dr. David Hume at Brigham Hospital, Boston. Wong was in residency training then at Massachusetts General Hospital.

After returning home in 1966 to practice medicine, Wong said Chinn and others asked whether he would be interested in doing kidney transplants since he had trained with pioneers in the field.

Sister Maureen Keleher, administrator of St. Francis Medical Center, was enthused about the idea and gave him an animal laboratory to work in, he said.

He met Hume at a transplant meeting in New York, and Hume joined Wong's team to perform the first three kidney transplants here on Aug. 10, 1969. Wong said he missed his youngest son's birth on Aug. 8 to pick up Hume at the airport.

Terasaki at UCLA had invented a tissue-typing test for transplants and helped the Hawaii group until Young Paik started a Hawaii tissue-typing lab at the end of 1970.

“;Nobody paid for the first 10 to 15 transplants,”; Wong said. “;The insurance carrier said it was investigational, so doctors and the hospital did it for free. They were afraid we would open a big can of worms, and nobody knew how good we were and if we'd be here in a year or two.”;

Wong said he took the first 16 patients on dialysis—including Chong—to the state Legislature and told them “;these 16 patients would die without dialysis. They gave me money.”;

“;He is my hero,”; said Chong, who worked in the Liberty House accounting department until it closed and volunteered at St. Francis for a few years. She said she had a machine for home dialysis. At other times she went to the hospital for treatments twice a week, six hours a day.

The number of dialysis patients in 1969 “;was exceedingly small,”; Wong said, noting the national dialysis cost now is $37 billion a year for half a million patients.

He did the first bone marrow transplant at St. Francis in 1978 and recruited surgeons to expand the program with heart, liver and pancreas transplants.

Chong said she takes an immunosuppressive pill to prevent rejection of the transplanted kidney, walks regularly and feels good. Wong pointed out to her two years ago how long it had been since the transplant, she said. “;I was kinda shocked because I live day to day.”;

Wong quit surgery in 2004 at age 74, but the 79-year-old physician still is in his office four days a week in the Weinberg Building at Hawaii Medical Center-East. He said he keeps busy with his seven grandchildren, “;but I'm not saying I'm retired. I'm doing some things. I have some federal money.”;

Whatever he has accomplished, he emphasized “;it's about all the people that gave me an opportunity.”; Transplant Institute doctors do 80 to 90 transplants a year, plus other surgeries at different hospitals, he said. “;They're all very dedicated. When there is a transplant, they drop everything to do this.”;

He said he tried to talk his daughter, Linda, one of five children, out of going to medical school and into surgery. “;I said, 'Pick something easier.'”; That didn't work. She is also a transplant surgeon with milestones including performing the first liver transplant here in 1993.


Dr. Livingston Wong and transplant recipients will be honored at a celebration of the Hawaii transplant program's 40th anniversary from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Pacific Club.

About 1,356 transplants have been performed since the first three on Aug. 10, 1969—46 for heart, 157 liver, 1,123 kidney, 30 pancreas.

The Transplant Institute of the Pacific at Hawaii Medical Center-East (formerly St. Francis Medical Center) has three medical directors, seven surgeons, 12 full- and part-time staff members and ancillary staff of dietitians and pharmacists.

About 387 patients are waiting for an organ transplant, according to the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii.

Source: Transplant Institute of the Pacific








The national dialysis cost now is $37 billion a year for half a million patients. Originally, this article said it was $37 million.