LIFE: Vukile Genu is the longest living recipient of a kidney transplant in the country. He underwent the operation at the age of 14. Inset: Genu now, at the age of 54.
LIFE: Vukile Genu is the longest living recipient of a kidney transplant in the country. He underwent the operation at the age of 14. Inset: Genu now, at the age of 54.
LIFE: Vukile Genu was only 11 years old when he was admitted at Karl Bremer Hospital following acute nephritis
LIFE: Vukile Genu was only 11 years old when he was admitted at Karl Bremer Hospital following acute nephritis
Vukile Genu was only 11 years old when he was admitted to Karl Bremer Hospital following acute nephritis - a sudden inflammation of the kidneys resulting in kidney failure.

The Eastern Cape boy was so critical that he would spend another three years in hospital on dialysis before he finally had a kidney transplant.

Although doctors at Tygerberg Hospital, where he had his life-changing surgery, estimated that the new kidney would keep him alive for about 10 years, miraculously the now 54-year-old teacher and father of five would live another 40 years - becoming the longest living kidney transplant recipient in South Africa to date.

On December 2, 1977, the then 14-year-old who already had both his kidneys removed due to uncontrolled blood pressure, received an early Christmas present from the medical staff at the Karl Bremer Hospital’s Renal Unit, which had just moved to the new Tygerberg Hospital.

As the only kid on dialysis at that unit, Genu became the favourite patient among medical staff, and every year he would be showered with gifts of all sorts. “But in 1977 I told doctors I needed a different present I wanted a kidney. I told the staff I was too old for toys and the only gift I wanted that year was a transplant because I was tired of the dialysis, which was very uncomfortable,” he said.

Not long after he asked for the “gift” his dream came true after a kidney became available from a cadaver

“That day (the day before the transplant) I was fetched from school by the hospital transport very early. It was a chilly Friday and in my mind I thought that I was being taken for my dialysis. It was only after I got the hospital that I was told that I would be getting the transplant the following day. I was over the moon! I was ecstatic because I was finally going to be off dialysis,” he said.

Dr Ockie Oosthuizen, a treating doctor of Genu at the time said that because of his multiple problems and haemodialysis, he effectively lived in Tygerberg Hospital where he received schooling at the hospital school.

“He arrived from the then Transkei and was living in an informal settlement, and he was kept in the hospital where he lived for the next three years,” he said.

He was presented at Karl Bremer Hospital in 1974 with severe high blood pressure, “which was difficult to control and he ended up with a bilateral nephrectomy in order to control this malignant blood pressure”.

“We had difficulty with his blood vessels and haemodialysis, but this was eventually overcome by good vascular surgery,” Oosthuizen said.

Genu, who is currently a teacher at Phingilili Junior Secondary School in Bityi Village near Mthatha, has not only lived long, but miraculously he also fathered five children after his transplant.

“The doctors cautioned me that I would not have children as the immuno suppressants that I took to avoid the rejection of the kidney could damage my sperm and make me infertile. So when I had my first child you can imagine the shock I had I was even suspicious that this could not be my child. It was in 1986 that my eldest daughter was born after that six more children were born, but two have since died so I have a total of five children. They are my miracle children they give a reason to live,” he said.

Any secret why he has lived so long?

Genu believes that looking after his health and avoiding a bad lifestyle such as drinking, smoking and staying away from certain drugs has contributed to his long life after the transplant.

“I’m feeling great. I’ve never touched alcohol in my life and other medicines that would cause strain to my kidneys. Even though I have since developed gout and diabetes as a result of the medication that I’m using, I don’t have any problems with my kidney. It functions 130%,” he said.

Apart from his teaching job, Genu says he has also become a transplant ambassador in his community, and encourages the black African community to look at transplants and organ donation differently, and not as taboo.

“The kidney transplant saved my life. I am now the father of five children, and I’m able to support them emotionally and financially - thanks to the transplant. Imagine if the number of donors would increase, the number of lives saved would be tremendous.”