Growing up, Ed Cooper always looked up to his older brother, Tom.
So it was quite fitting for him to be the one to save his brother’s life.
“He was seven years older than I was,” said Ed. “He’s the one who helped me learn to read and write, throw a baseball, hit a
baseball. He has always been my hero.
“When the doctors said that he would definitely need a transplant, I told my
parents that I was ready to be tested. There was not much to think over.
“I really don’t consider it anything special on my part because I think most people in that
situation and with that opportunity would do the same thing.”
It’s been 30 years since Ed, 49, donated his kidney to his older brother Tom, 56.
Recently the brothers, Vanderbilt’s longest surviving living donor and recipient, returned to Vanderbilt to
observe the anniversary. A reception was held in their honor. The pair was able
to visit with some old friends who have since retired from the Vanderbilt
In 1999, 20 years post transplant, Tom was the second longest living kidney
recipient at Vanderbilt. According to 2008 data, there are 70 living donor
patients worldwide surviving for 30 years or more, with 49 of those survivors
living in the United States. Vanderbilt’s first living donor transplant was performed in 1970.
The milestone is one the brothers have been only too happy to celebrate, because
in 1967 a kidney failure diagnosis was considered a death sentence.
When Tom was 9 months old, doctors discovered that his kidneys were damaged from
crystallized sulfur drugs. At 14, the family was told that Tom’s kidneys would probably fail in about
Over the years, his kidneys slowly deteriorated but it did not keep him from a
normal childhood. It wasn’t until he was 24 that his health status began to change. Although dialysis
became routine, it was evident that the regime was no longer useful.
“I didn’t really feel bad,” said Tom. “I didn’t really know what feeling good was, but I felt as good as far as I knew. I had
been pretty active in school and in sports. But once I graduated from college
and started my first job, things began to change.”
The entire Cooper family was tested, but only one of them was a perfect match.
“Ed never hesitated,” said Tom. “It was quite encouraging to me. My life has been amazing. I have been very
blessed and fortunate to have my faith and my family because they have brought
me through a lot.
“Because of what Ed did, I have been able to have a normal life. I understand
that it is a special gift and that not everyone has this opportunity, but by
his giving me one of his kidneys I was able to live.”