It was a tearful milestone for the oldest kidney donor-recipient pair when they celebrated 50 years after the risky surgery at the hospital where it all took place.
Denice Lombard, 62, and her father Ted Lombard spoke out at UCLA on the 50th anniversary of their kidney transplant, in hopes of convincing more people to become organ donors.
“We really only need one kidney to live on if you’re generally healthy,” Denice told InsideEdition.com. “[My dad] has lived a full life with his kidney, and I’ve lived a full life with the other one.”
Denice was battling a rare genetic disorder that weakened her kidneys when she received a transplant from her father Ted in 1967. Doctors identified the illness as Frasier Syndrome in 2005.
"It was experimental and it didn’t last very long in those days, so they didn’t want to put kids through the suffering because the outcome was so uncertain for them," she explained. "My mom fought like hell for me to have a transplant and we got very lucky."
At the time, the family was grieving following the death of Denice's identical twin, who suffered from the same illness and died of kidney failure when she was 7 years old — six years before Denice was granted her transplant at UCLA.
"I lost one daughter," Ted said during a UCLA press conference, through tears. “I just didn’t want to lose another."
Her mom Anne Lombard spoke out about the difficult fight to even get her daughter into dialysis treatment.
"That, too, was in the early stages, and it was very expensive," Denice explained. "It was something they only did on male heads of households."
But her pediatrician, Dr. Neil Litman, advocated for her care, and when she was 13 years old, surgeons at UCLA performed her life-saving kidney transplant, thanks to her father's donation.
"[My parents] were more scared than I was," Denice recalled. "When you’re young, you don’t really fear things as much and know what the outcome would be. I was always optimistic and felt like everything would work out fine."
Following a 21-day recovery period from the surgery that left an enormous scar on her abdomen, doctors declared the transplant a success.
Denice said she remembered her doctor admiring her urine, funneled into glass jugs placed on the window sill and slightly pink from the blood in her kidneys: "Dr. Litman came in and was dancing for joy, saying, ‘Oh my God, isn’t it beautiful,' because my kidneys started working right away."
Although she was in good health following the transplant, she said as a teenager, she was embarrassed of her swollen face — a side effect from the anti-rejection drugs transplant patients have to take.
"It was kind of brutal, people were not kind," she laughed. "I remember standing in the cafeteria — it was a 2,000-member junior high school — facing the wall so people wouldn’t look at me. But, I got over feeling like a monster."
After a minor case of early rejection, Denice said she has not seen many problems with her kidney and was able to survive on her father’s kidney all this time, despite doctors telling her that many kidney transplant patients will need three donors in their lifetime.
At UCLA, Dr. Gabriel Danovitch explained Denice's miracle transplant paved the way for the hospital's Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program.
“Back then, Denice was our one and only kidney transplant patient," he said. "Today, we average nearly a transplant a day.”
Today, Denice lives in the D.C. area with her spouse Nancy Wohlforth.
"I’ve had a very rich life," she said, joking, "I kayak, I ride bikes, I’ve hiked hundreds of miles. I’ve even got a knee replacement – I’m old enough to have my joints feel the effect of living a long life."