First related living donor kidney transplant after 30 Years

Meet Hayes Copeland: Wichita’s first related living donor kidney transplant — after 30 years

Hayes and Murel Copeland
More than three decades later, kidney transplant recipient Hayes Copeland (left) with his donor and brother, Murel, continue to live without complications. Marking the 25th anniversary of the procedure, the brothers and their wives took an Alaskan cruise.

Hayes Copeland postponed the onset of dialysis for his degenerating kidneys for several years by being careful about what he ate and drank.

“My doctor said, ‘When you wake up and feel bad, call me and I’ll schedule you for dialysis,’” says Copeland. “Sure enough, I got up one morning and felt terrible.”

Happily for him, he was only on dialysis five months, because his brother Murel was a perfect donor match.

“I was kind of nervous for Murel at first, but it didn’t seem to bother him,” said Hayes. “As he told me at the time, ‘I’ll give you one, but I’m not going to give you the next one.’ ” 

Hayes and Murel Copeland in 1982 with Dr. Charles Shield
Kidney recipient Hayes Copeland, left, and his donor, brother Murel, in bed, pose after their surgeries with Mark Blackmore who holds a T-shirt commemorating the first living related donor surgery at St. Francis Hospital. Blackmore is still kidney transplant coordinator for Via Christi Transplant Institute.

Hayes and Murel Copeland and their wives went to Kansas City in 1981 to explore their surgical options. Not impressed, Hayes came back to Wichita and was told St. Francis Hospital, now the Transplant Institute at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, was getting a new transplant surgeon in a few months.

“I asked, ‘Can you get me an appointment to talk to him? I want to know how he does everything.’ ”

The surgeon was Charles Shield, MD. He still performs kidney transplants, general surgery, vascular surgery and other procedures at Via Christi, often for high-risk patients from out of state, and is clinical professor of Surgery at University of Kansas School of Medicine. He came to Wichita from San Antonio, where he was doing transplants in the Air Force.

The last test before surgery showed Hayes first would have to have surgery for gallstones and wait 90 days for the transplant, but he promised he wouldn’t need that long. Shield said he’d have to start walking 30 minutes after he woke up in recovery. Hayes remembers what Shield told him he was going in for: “We’ll take out your gall bladder, remove the spleen, take out your right kidney and strip the nerves off your stomach, since you’ve had a history of ulcers. I’ll move all the plumbing to be ready to go.”

Hayes walked every hour for the first 24 hours after gall bladder surgery, working up to five miles a day in quarter-mile loops of the fifth floor. Shield sent him home to finish building up for the transplant. Hayes says he stayed in the hospital two weeks after the Nov. 3, 1981, transplant to get his medications leveled out.

“Back then, it was something new,” he says. “I remember Dr. Shield coming in at night, saying, ‘Get up, Hayes. We’ve got to talk’ and we’d sit there and talk about how it was going, for an hour or so.”

Hayes and Kathy moved back to his home town of Sallisaw, Okla., where Murel and his wife Lynn live, in 2007. Neither has had any complication from the decades-old procedure.

“He gave me life,” says Hayes. “I don’t know where I’d be now if he hadn’t done what he did.”

“I’ve never regretted it,” says Murel. “If I had it to do over again, I’d do it.”


Related Content

 Transplant Institute

 How to donate

 Donor evaluation

 Kidney Transplant FAQs 

 Transplant vs. dialysis 

 Video: The Living Gift

 Be an organ, eye or tissue donor. Find out how at 



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