Singapore man, 70, has a kidney that is nearing 100 years old

Mr Kong Fook Seng's kidney is 98 years old and counting. It used to belong to his late father Kong Wing Hing. Mr Kong was diagnosed in 1975 with chronic glomerulonephritis, his kidneys had eventually failed in 1980 when he was 26.

Judith Tan

Judith Tan

The Straits Times


Mr Kong Fook Seng with a photo of himself and his late father Kong Wing Hing during a trip to China. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES

June 12, 2024

SINGAPORE – Mr Kong Fook Seng may be turning 70 in October, but his kidney is 98 years old and counting.

It used to belong to his late father Kong Wing Hing.

“Having received a kidney from my father was God’s blessing, rather than having to lie down in bed to do dialysis,” said Mr Kong, who works in design project management at a semiconductor company.

Mr Kong was diagnosed in 1975 with chronic glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the kidney’s tiny filters that remove excess fluid and waste from the bloodstream.

“Before that, I was playing football as a sport. Then I gradually lost the strength to kick the ball. After the game, I had to lie down on the field for an hour before I could get up to go home,” he said.

Mr Kong said he became very lethargic and got exhausted easily – climbing the steps to an overhead bridge took him 15 minutes.

“I even had to sit up while sleeping, otherwise I would have difficulty breathing,” he added.

Dr Sobhana Thangaraju, a senior consultant of renal medicine at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and SingHealth Duke-NUS Transplant Centre, said chronic glomerulonephritis develops silently over several years and can lead to severe damage, resulting in irreversible kidney failure.

Mr Kong’s inability to breathe while lying down was due to fluid build-up in the lungs, she said.

His kidneys eventually failed in 1980 when he was 26.

For a period of five to six months, he underwent peritoneal dialysis, which removes waste and extra fluid through the blood vessels that line the walls of the abdomen.

“Until the fourth day (of the dialysis), the pain became so excruciating that I needed morphine to relieve my suffering. I was also feeling so cold that the three blankets and hot-water bottle given to me did not help,” he said.

Mr Kong underwent haemodialysis for the next three to four months. In this procedure, a machine removes blood from the patient’s body, filters it through an artificial kidney and returns the clean blood to the body.

He said his doctor, Professor Woo Keng Thye, currently the emeritus consultant at SGH, then asked his siblings to come forward to undergo tests to see if they were suitable donors.

Mr Kong was fortunate that both his father and brother were found to be matches for donating a kidney to him. “Although my brother was put on standby, it was my father who donated his kidney,” he said.

That same year, a surgeon at SGH performed the transplant. The elder Mr Kong was then 54.

If no match had been found, Mr Kong would probably have needed to wait for eight to nine years before getting a kidney from a cadaveric or dead donor.

His father’s selfless gift enabled Mr Kong to live a normal life. He married his girlfriend Vikki Tan, who had been with him since 1978 when they met at his first workplace. They have a son and a daughter.

While Mr Kong has survived 44 years with his father’s kidney, he is far from being the longest-surviving kidney transplant recipient. Ms Charlotte Markle, 81, for one, has lived longer, having had her transplant 58 years ago in 1966.

Despite the changes to the Human Organ Transplant Act and technological advancement, there is still a long waiting list for an organ transplant. The longest wait is for cadaveric kidneys, with those who received a cadaveric kidney in 2023 having waited for around nine years on average.

As at end-2023, 400 patients were still on the waiting list for a cadaveric kidney transplant.

Data from the National Organ Transplant Unit at the Ministry of Health shows there were 39 kidney transplants from dead donors and 49 from living donors in 2023, compared with 33 and 56, respectively, in 2019.

Dr Sobhana said: “With the advancement in medical and surgical technology, surgery to remove the donor kidney can be done using laparoscopy (a form of keyhole surgery) and the donor is discharged from hospital three to four days after the operation.”

Once a donor is discharged, he can resume normal activities and return to work within four to six weeks.

Dr Sobhana said most donors are able to lead long and healthy lives with one kidney, and their health outcomes are excellent. They also have regular follow-ups to ensure their kidneys are functioning normally.

She said that while a kidney from a dead donor lasts about 15 years and that from a living donor lasts for 20, Mr Kong’s transplanted kidney, having lasted over 40 years, is “one that occurs less often”.

Mr Kong said his father continued to practise qigong after donating his kidney and was able to live a long and fruitful life until his death at the age of 83.

Mr Kong has also led a healthy life, returning to sports by taking part in the World Transplant Games. “I was even the flag bearer in 1989,” he said.

Apart from exercising to keep his father’s kidney healthy, “I drink red wine”, Mr Kong said with a grin.

He is looking forward to visiting his daughter, who is working in Prague in the Czech Republic, in October.

“That is when I will not only celebrate my 70th birthday, I will also be celebrating my 36th wedding anniversary with my wife, who has stood by me through everything,” he added.

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