Patience pays off for 83-year-old kidney recipient

PLANO — Shelves of memorabilia can't scratch the surface of 83-year-old Jim Ely's remarkable life as a baseball and football official.

Even after kidney failure sidelined him as a referee in 2005, he has remained the home-game timekeeper for the Dallas Cowboys.

He hoped all along he'd be able to get a transplant when the clock on his kidney finally ran out.

"Most of the hospitals prefer to have a person who's 70 [years old] and under to do a transplant on," Ely said. "They want them to be able to live a lot longer if they're putting somebody's kidney in them."

An estimated 26 million American adults live with chronic kidney disease. In 2013, nearly 17,000 kidney transplants were performed nationwide, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Currently, more than 100,000 end-stage renal patients await transplant.

While more patients over 65 are receiving transplants, many hospitals won't consider patients over the age of 70 because their life expectancy isn't as long. Transplants on patients over 80 are still considered rare.

After being turned down by a half-dozen hospitals, Ely's good health convinced doctors at UT-Southwestern Medical Center that age can be just a number.

Dr. Miguel Vazquez, professor of internal medicine and medical director of kidney transplantation at UT-Southwestern, said transplants can be challenging, at first, for patients of any age.

"It's not an easy thing," Dr. Vazquez said. "They have a major surgical procedure; the medication burden; just coming to clinic so often to be checked -– it's three times a week at first. All that can be challenging for individuals."

He said Ely's otherwise good health and motivation to do whatever is required to get healthier made him a good candidate for a transplant, despite his age.

On December 5 — after four years on the waiting list — Ely became the last kidney transplant recipient at the now-closed St. Paul Hospital. He was also the oldest patient ever to receive a transplant there.

"I feel a thousand percent better," he said.

Barely a month after the procedure, Ely is already strong enough to be the official timekeeper at the first College Football Playoff championship Monday night in Arlington.

He is proud to set an example.

"You're never too old to get a transplant, if you're in good condition," he said.

He is also excited that a new kidney has reset his own clock on life.

"I'm a miracle guy," Ely said. "I'll be 84 in March, and I have a whole new life. The Lord has blessed me unending."


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