Staff member in Cath Lab in scrubsStaff in scrubs in the Cath LabStaff in scrubs in the Cath Lab


A reunion 49 years in the making

Lionel and his sister Lianny

28 March 2024

Still in good health in his mid-70s and hand in hand with his sister Lianny, Lionel Lee this week stepped foot back inside Austin Hospital for the first time since 1975.

It’s been almost 49 years since Lionel received a kidney transplant from his sister. Our sixth ever transplant performed at Austin Health and our first living donor transplant.

Lionel was always a healthy, active child with no major health problems. It wasn’t until he was studying to be a medical laboratory technician in Thailand where he discovered his kidney function was below normal – a freak find after volunteering to be a guinea pig for a kidney function test. Despite the low result, doctors weren’t concerned and he still felt healthy. However, he had a hunch that something was wrong.

Two years later, and a move to Malaysia, he had further tests that discovered he was born with kidneys smaller than what they should be and was told his kidneys might give in at some point but for the next decade he should be ok.

In April 1975, Lionel fell ill and needed to be hospitalised, his creatine level (a waste product your kidneys filter out) were dangerously high so he began dialysis. It was only a few months later that he was told he needed a kidney transplant.

Lianny and one of Lionel’s brothers both volunteered to donate.

Lionel meeting hospital staff and seeing the book that records all kidney transplants. His on page two!

Despite working in a hospital in Malaysia at the time, kidney transplantation was not an option, so they began researching a hospital who were happy to take it on. Singapore declined, as they had never performed a living donor transplant before, and the US was out of the question as the cost would exceed $70,000.

Lionel’s doctor in Malaysia had an affiliation with Austin Health and hospital management agreed to take the case on, free of charge.

Following a five and half hour surgery that involved six surgeons, four anaesthetists and two theatres, Lionel had a new kidney and Lianny had saved her brother’s life.

When they returned this week, on a cruise from their home in Canada, they were able to meet doctors, hospital management and see machines we use to increase rates of transplantation. While the building they had their operation in no longer exists, the bond they both share with this organisation shined through as they thanked the organisation for giving them a chance and saving a life almost five decades ago.

Since Lionel’s transplant, he has never had any organ rejection episodes and has continued to live a normal life.