Larry Timms remembers 1969 like it was yesterday. That’s because it’s the year he received a gift from his sister that saved his life.
“She was married with a 6-month-old baby at the time. But when she found out she was a match, she didn’t think twice about giving me one of her kidneys,” Mr. Timms said of his older sister Sherry, a hairdresser in Sylvania, where they both still live.
Mr. Timms, whose transplant was just the fourth one at MCGHealth, then known as Eugene Talmadge Memorial Hospital, remembers the details well, especially the worry he had for his sister, who was risking her life with a young family at home. He also hasn’t forgotten the 13 hours of surgery he endured at just 18 years old, followed by several months of hospitalization with his surgeon Dr. Arthur Humphries Jr. almost always at his side.
“He was so concerned about me, and the transplant program was so new. He would sleep in my room most nights, just to keep an eye on me,” recalls the 58-year-old husband and father of two.
“I was such a worry-wart,” admits Dr. Humphries, the founding director of the kidney transplant program. He will join Mr. Timms and hundreds of transplant survivors on September 9 for the program’s 40th anniversary celebration.
Dr. Humphries and a small surgical team performed the first kidney transplant on August 28, 1968, on Larry Mitchell of Langley, S.C. Three out of the first seven recipients are still living healthy lives, with Mr. Timms being the oldest survivor. The first, second, third and sixth recipients are deceased, but their deaths were caused by unrelated health problems, according to Dr. Humphries, who kept a distant watch on each of them.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Larry Timms and all the others again,” said the surgical pioneer who retired in 1997, after performing more than 500 kidney transplants in 29 years. “I am very proud to have helped so many. I had a good time.”
Dr. James Wynn, who worked with Dr. Humphries during his surgical residency and trained in Florida and Wisconsin on pancreas and liver techniques, replaced Dr. Humphries as medical director of the kidney transplant program in 1995. “He came back better trained than me,” Dr. Humphries said, “and just six years after coming back he became president of the Southeastern Organ Procurement Foundation. And now, he will be president of the entire U.S. organ system. He’s a really smart man.”
Dr. Wynn, who has performed nearly 1,000 transplant surgeries at MCGHealth, is president-elect of the United Network of Organ Sharing, which operates the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network that oversees the transplant system in the United States. Dr. Wynn performed the first pancreas transplant at MCGHealth in 1994 and has since performed 17 pancreas transplants.
Dr. Todd Merchen joined the transplant team in 2007 and specializes in several surgical techniques, including laparoscopic nephrectomy and liver resection. The MCGHealth Kidney/PancreasTransplant Program has posted combined transplant numbers totaling 1,897 over four decades.
MCG Health, Inc. (d/b/a MCGHealth) is a not-for-profit corporation operating the MCGHealth Medical Center, MCGHealth Children’s Medical Center, the Georgia Radiation Therapy Center, and related outpatient facilities and services throughout the state. For more information, please visit mcghealth.org.
Editorial Notes: Mr. Timms lives in Sylvania, Ga., Dr. Humphries resides in Augusta and Dr. Wynn, a native of Statesboro, Ga., resides in Augusta.