Janice Ottenbacher Schroeder, left, and Joan Ottenbacher Tetlow helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U-M Transplant Center. In 1964, Janice was the first kidney transplant recipient in Michigan and her twin sister Joan was the first donor.

Golden anniversary

First transplant recipients help celebrate U-M Transplant Center’s 50th year

issue 22 | Fall 2014

Identical twin sisters Janice and Joan Ottenbacher were just 15 years old when they unexpectedly became part of a groundbreaking surgery at the University of Michigan. Janice was dying; her kidneys failing. Joan agreed to donate a kidney. And as their parents waited anxiously, the twins successfully survived the first kidney transplant ever done in Michigan.

Fifty years later, both are healthy and thriving. They both became nurses, got married, and had children and grandchildren.

This summer, the twins joined the University of Michigan community in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Transplant Center. Since the twins' transplant in 1964, the University of Michigan Transplant Center has done more than 10,126 organ transplants, of which 1,077 were for pediatric patients. Only about a dozen centers nationwide have done that many procedures.

 "I should have not been here, if it weren't for God's hand in our life and the technology and the doctors and nurses at the hospital 50 years ago," says Janice Ottenbacher Schroeder, who now lives in Craig, Colorado.

At that time, transplant was very new and often limited to identical twins because immunosuppressant drugs weren't needed to prevent the donor from rejecting the organ.

About 400 to 450 transplants are done at U-M annually. Kidney transplants have the highest volume, followed by liver, heart, lung and pancreas.