"Phillips’ donor kidney lasted longer than any other in the world, except for those involving identical twins.
Phillips died in December at the age of 88.
"“It was a very new procedure at that time, and not always met with long-term success,” said Dr. Peter Ivanovich, a nephrologist with Northwestern University in Chicago. “There were many problems to overcome, there were limited anti-rejection medicines available at the time.”
Phillips had six siblings who were willing to donate a kidney, but doctors rejected each one.
Still, Phillips flew to Denver to meet Dr. Thomas Startzl, a pioneer in the field of transplants.
A prisoner in a nearby jail offered to donate his kidney to Phillips. It would have been the first time a living inmate donated an organ.
But at the last minute, doctors discovered the prisoner’s blood type wasn’t a match. Phillips was ready for surgery but there wasn’t a kidney for him.
Another sister, Ruth, traveled to Denver with him and begged Startzl to use one of her kidneys. Their blood types didn’t match either, and the odds of a successful outcome were low. When blood types match between donor and patient, the recipient’s body is less likely to reject the new organ.
“The chances were nil as we had completely different blood types and not before or since (to my knowledge) has this been successful,” Phillips wrote in a letter to a transplant society in 1972.
But he didn’t have long to live without a transplant. So Startzl decided to give it a try.
In the letter, Phillips wrote, “I feel great and would 100 times over take the transplant as opposed to the kidney machine. One is just existing, the other living.”
After the successful surgery, Phillips changed careers, then eventually retired to Colonial Beach and took care of his wife for six years before she died in 2006.
He never had trouble with his kidneys again.
“When he passed away, the amazing thing was, his heart was bad, things were bad, he was not in any pain and his kidney was still in good condition,” said Phillips’ niece, Beverly Ange, who took care of him in his final years."