Arizona's first transplant patient
Violet Lopez arrived at Good Samaritan Hospital one day in 1969, feeble, exhausted and shrouded in pain. The then 25-year-old social worker was visibly losing a decade-long battle with her body, and faced a prognosis that was bleak, at best. Yet, despite her body’s attempts to shut down, Lopez had no intention of dying. To cheat death, however, she would have to face it by electing to undergo a dangerous procedure that had never been performed on or by anyone in the state of Arizona.
Tests revealed that the culprit of her body’s betrayal was advanced kidney failure. Lopez’ kidney function had drastically diminished to less than five percent of normal capacity. Her only option - a kidney transplant.
Her family was understandably shaken by the news as they tried to wrap their minds around the idea of an organ transplant, as well as the procedure’s $24,000 price tag. With time being a critical factor, family members were quickly tested to determine if anyone was a matching donor. Fortunately, her brother was, and he willingly agreed.
“He told me it was my birthday and Christmas present all rolled into one,” Lopez recalled.
With no transplant surgeons in the state of Arizona, Dr. William Cornell, a cardiovascular surgeon, was charged with the daunting task of safely removing the kidney from her brother and successfully transplanting it into the right side of her body. Despite the uncertainty she faced and for reasons she can’t explain, Lopez remained calm and confident.
“I don’t know, I just had this confidence that everything was going to be fine,” she said.
She was right. After the transplant, Lopez was awakened while still on the operating table.
“Dr. Cornell leaned into my ear and said that the operation was over and that I was all right.”
The kidney Lopez received from her brother functioned properly for nearly 12 years before being replaced by another, a remarkable feat considering the time, technology and circumstances surrounding the transplant.
In the 42 years since Lopez’ transplant, more than 3,100 kidney transplants have been performed at Banner Good Samaritan and Banner Good Samaritan Transplant Services has grown to become Arizona’s most experienced transplant center.