By Renee Beasley Jones
Wayne Boarman is 70 years old.
His kidney, however, is 91.
Until Nov. 17, 1969, his kidney belonged to his dad, Dick Boarman of Whitesville.
On that date — 50 years ago next month — Dick Boarman donated a kidney to his oldest son, who had suffered from Bright’s Disease, or acute nephritis, since he was a small child.
The average lifespan for a single kidney transplant is up to 20 years, said Dr. Dhiren Haria of Ohio Valley Nephrology Associates. He is Wayne Boarman’s nephrologist.
A maximum would be 30 years.
“Fifty years is a rarity,” Haria said. “… Beyond 30 years, whatever you get is a bonus.”
Wayne Boarman grew up on Haynes-Station Road in the Whitesville area. He was the oldest of 11 children.
“The whole time I was growing up, I would have spells that would put me in the hospital or doctor’s office,” he said.
As time passed, his health grew considerably worse. At some point, medications quit working and poison started to build up in his system.
Eventually, his local primary care physician Dr. Glen Greene referred Wayne Boarman, then 20 years old, to the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
“Back then, a transplant was experimental stuff,” he said.
His medical condition required extreme measures. Wayne Boarman didn’t realize it at the time, but he was dying.
He went into the UK Medical Center on Labor Day 1969 and remained there about six months. Until the transplant, he relied on dialysis to remove toxins from his system.
In the meantime, doctors tested three relatives — his dad, aunt Minnie Boarman and uncle Bud Boarman — as potential donors. At that time, no computers calculated the best match. It was more or less guesswork performed in California.
At first, it looked like his uncle would donate a kidney, but a few weeks before the transplant date, someone in California notified the surgeon that Dick Boarman was the best match.
Wayne Boarman remembers that pleased his dad.
The two always shared a close bond.
Dick Boarman owned Boarman’s Garage on Kentucky 54 across from Haynes-Station Road.
“I worked with my dad at the garage from the time I was old enough to get in the way,” Wayne Boarman said, with a chuckle.
After graduating high school, he attended Ball’s Auto Diesel College for a year. Wayne Boarman wanted nothing more than to work alongside his dad at the family business.
But his illness interrupted those dreams. He had barely stepped into adulthood and his life was hanging in the balance.
True to character, his dad did what he’d always done. He was known for helping anyone in need.
“He was the person you looked up to,” Wayne Boarman said. “He always had your back.”
“The thing I remember most from the morning of the transplant — as they took Dad and I into different areas — we were lying on stretchers and shook hands,” Wayne Boarman said. “The next thing I remember was coming out of surgery and being told it was a great success. Everything was working right, and there was no sign of rejection.”
Within a short time, however, a blood clot found its way to Wayne Boarman’s new kidney. Another surgery was required.
During the second surgery, the doctor accidentally sliced the transplanted kidney’s drainage tube, which meant another surgery.
Surgeons operated on him at least five times after the transplant.
Wonderful Whitesville support
The Whitesville area depended on Boarman’s Garage. Besides being a full-service gas station and mechanic shop, farmers hung out there and daily commuters parked cars there before catching rides into Owensboro.
As it turned out, the family-owned business never skipped a beat while Dick and Wayne Boarman were in Lexington or during the weeks Dick Boarman convalesced at home.
John Boarman, Dick Boarman’s dad, oversaw the station’s operation in his son’s absence. Friends, family and neighbors pitched in, too.
In addition, Whitesville-area folks dug deep into their pockets and donated money to Wayne Boarman during his long hospitalization. Churches hosted fundraisers for him.
Well-wishers sent more than 100 get well cards.
“Hardly a day went by that I didn’t get a card from somebody,” Wayne Boarman said.
His grandma Mary Agnes Boarman and Edna Christian often wrote letters. They had no formal education, but, to this day, he remembers their skilled penmanship and natural writing ability.
“It was as if you were right there listening to them tell you about what was going on in the community,” he said.
Working with dad
During the six months Wayne Boarman was hospitalized, food stamps and a monthly welfare check kept his family going. They continued to rely on welfare for five years.
“I certainly ate every word I ever said about the welfare system,” he said. “It’s very humbling.”
Doctors at UK Medical Center didn’t want him to return to Boarman’s Garage to work as a mechanic. They suggested he go to college and find a less strenuous career.
His younger brothers took over his position at Boarman’s Garage.
Wayne Boarman enrolled at Brescia College, graduating in 1974 with a double major in sociology and psychology. He returned later in life to earn a degree in social work.
He worked in social work for several years before eventually returning to Boarman’s Garage. Wayne Boarman worked at the family business between 1982 and 1996, when the family sold the station. Until the very end, it stayed a full-service station that pumped gas and washed windshields.
After Boarman’s Garage sold, he returned to social work. During his career, he worked at RiverValley Behavioral Health, Wendell Foster and Hospice of Western Kentucky.
Wayne Boarman retired in 2017.
He’s lived long enough now that a new reality has set in.
“I may die of something other than kidney failure,” he said.
History of kidney transplants
Starting in 1902, Austrian Emerich Ullmann transplanted a dog kidney, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The organ worked a couple of days before it died.
Seven years later, surgeons attempted to transplant a deceased human kidney into a monkey.
Later, they tried placing the kidneys of animals into humans.
In 1939, the first deceased human donor kidney was transplanted to another person. The patient lived only a few days, and the kidney never produced urine.
It took the medical community until 1953 to complete a “temporarily successful” living donor kidney transplant, according to NCBI.
A year later, doctors recorded the first successful long-term live-donor transplant between a pair of twins. The kidney lasted eight years.
In the early 1960s, doctors successfully transplanted a kidney between two unrelated patients.
Dick Boarman is 91 and still living at home near Whitesville. He suffers from dementia now but his physical health seems remarkable for a man that age — with only one kidney.
His donor kidney has never given his son a moment’s trouble. Since the transplant, Wayne Boarman’s health has been excellent.
Haria thinks his story provides the perfect example of successful organ donation and what it means to recipients.
“We have a lot of patients on dialysis waiting for kidneys,” Haria said.
Nationally, more than 113,000 people in the U.S. are on the transplant waiting list, according to OrganDonor.gov. Twenty people die each day waiting for a donor.
Kentucky drivers are asked if they want to donate organs and tissue when they apply for a driver’s license. If they agree, they sign the back of their licenses and attach stickers to indicate they are donors.
As the 50th anniversary of his transplant approaches, Wayne Boarman looks back often. This time half a century ago, he was critically ill and waiting for his transplant at the UK Medical Center. Whitesville-area residents were sending cards, writing letters and raising money on his behalf.
He felt lucky then that so many people cared.
He feels the same way now.
“I never thought I would live to be this age,” Wayne Boarman said. “I’ve been very fortunate. I can’t complain. I’ve had a wonderful life.”