WASHINGTON — Sen. Jake Garn, whose flight into space had earned him a place in history, won a spot in many hearts after donating a kidney to his ailing daughter Wednesday.
The successful operation left the 53-year-old Utah Republican "proud and happy," said Dr. G. Baird Helfrich, who transplanted Garn's left kidney into the senator's daughter, Susan Rhae Garn Horne, 27. "The best of our expectations have been met."
In the procedure, which lasted almost six hours at Georgetown University Hospital, another surgeon, Dr. Ian Spence, removed Garn's kidney by making an incision extending from the senator's back to his left rib cage in the front. Then, in a room next to Garn's, Helfrich implanted the organ into Horne, a diabetic who suffers from kidney failure.
Garn was taken into surgery at 7:45 a.m., and the implant was completed at 1:25 p.m.
After the operations, Helfrich said: "The senator is awake, has a bit of a grin on his face. He seems very self-satisfied and happy and peaceful."
Timothy M. Sites, a hospital spokesman, said later that father and daughter were in fair condition--the usual listing in such operations. Horne, a homemaker who lives in suburban Vienna, Va., has a good chance of accepting the new kidney without major complications, and her father is not expected to suffer adverse consequences from losing a kidney, doctors said.
Both Garn's sons had been found to be compatible donors, but Garn wanted his daughter to have his kidney.
"I am very happy and proud to be the donor," he said a day before the operation. "Her mother carried her for nine months, and I'm honored to give her part of me."
The organ transplant marked the second time that Garn has been the focus of extraordinary publicity not directly related to his seat in the Senate. In April, 1985, he became the first elected official to fly in space, aboard the shuttle Discovery. His flight and his continuing interest in the nation's space program fashioned him into a kind of folk hero among many of his colleagues.
Praise From Peers
Now, his life-giving donation has touched another chord on Capitol Hill.
Interrupting debate on a spending bill Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) credited Garn with "a most generous and courageous act." Noting that he chose to be the donor over either of his sons, Dole said: "This is typical of Sen. Garn."
On the other side of the aisle, Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) called Garn "a remarkable man, a man of courage."
Garn's visit to the hospital was itself a first, said Helfrich, who recounted his conversation with the senator while he awaited surgery. "He indicated he had never been familiar with a hospital," the doctor said. "He had been born in his own home for $25."
Hospital officials said Garn's daughter needed the transplant because she had a form of diabetes that did not permit dialysis, the conventional method of treating kidney failure. At the time of the operation, her condition had "deteriorated," the officials said.
Horne, one of seven Garn children, was known to have suffered from diabetes since she was 10. The condition causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin, and sugar builds up in the bloodstream, weakening the kidneys.
Garn, who jogs to keep fit, was tested in Salt Lake City and in Washington last month to determine his suitability as a donor. When he checked into the hospital Tuesday, he interrupted his campaign for reelection, which he is expected to win.