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Kidney Transplant

Mehl brothers

Brothers Recall First Kidney Transplant at Penn

Brothers Joe and Howard Mehl are so different they don't even pronounce their last name the same. "I say 'Mel,' he says 'Meil," Joe said. But they share something that makes them even closer than the blood running through their veins. More than 40 years ago, in February of 1966, Joe gave Howard his kidney.

"When I first found out I was sick they said, 'You have six months to live,'" Howard said. At the age of 21, Howard's kidneys totally shut down, he was going blind, suffering major migraines and constant nosebleeds.

"He was so sick he couldn't even lift his head up off the pillow," Joe said. With his younger brother facing a lifetime of dialysis or worse – death, the then 25-year-old Joe never hesitated to offer his organ, and neither did any of their other five siblings. "They all marched up the next day and all took their tests and I got stuck with him," Howard said.

"I was elated to tell you the truth. I called my wife and said they picked me, they picked me," Joe said.

The two were admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Clyde Barker, MD, entered the picture. Prior to that time, a transplant had never been performed at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

"I was young – in my early 30s," Dr. Barker said. "At that time, in 1966, transplantation was still almost an experimental procedure."

While the modest Dr. Barker may not admit it, the brothers said the 1966 operation made the doctor a hero and Howard somewhat of a medical miracle.

"Howard Mehl, as you may know, is one of the oldest living kidney transplant recipient in the world and one of about 10 patients in the world who have survived over 40 years on the same kidney transplant," Dr. Barker said.

Decades after the procedure, Howard has a successful catering business. He and his wife of more than 30 years raised three boys who might not have been here otherwise. While Howard will always have Joe's kidney, Joe and Dr. Barker will always have Howard's heart.

"It's beautiful to give an organ to someone, to save their life…especially if it's a family member," Howard said.

Adapted from: "Brothers Recall First Kidney Transplant at UPenn" April 26, 2007; CBS 3

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