Posted: 12:00 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012

AGAINST THE ODDS

Man celebrates 40th year with transplanted kidney

Clark Beck was told new kidney might only last months



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Man celebrates 40th year with transplanted kidney photo
Clark Beck, 83, will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his kidney transplant on Oct. 29. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, Beck is considered to be among the longest living survivors in the world with a functioning kidney.

By Debbie Juniewicz

Clark Beck didn’t set out to be a pioneer – just a student.

But after Purdue University told the young black man that “your people cannot be engineers” he continued on. With transcript in hand, he tried the University of Cincinnati the very next day

“The dean looked at my transcript and told me, ‘You’re going to catch hell from both sides of the desk,’” Beck said. “There was only one other black student in the engineering school at the time.”

The Harrison Twp. man was ready for the challenge and enrolled in the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Science in 1951. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and later a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.

His challenges weren’t limited to getting an education as he started to develop serious health problems in the early 1970s.

“I had a rough time when I was in school, I didn’t have enough money to eat well or take care of myself,” he said. “I got sick and the strep throat settled in my kidneys. I didn’t know at the time the damage it did.”

When doctors told him he needed a transplant, Beck’s first option was to see if any of his three siblings were a match. They weren’t and Beck was actually happy because he didn’t want to take one of their kidneys, he said.

Beck, who was working as an engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and teaching at Central State University, continued dialysis and waited for a kidney to become available. He almost missed his chance, however, on a late fall afternoon almost a year after he discovered he needed a transplant.

Beck went out early on a Saturday morning with his surveying class and missed the phone call alerting him that a kidney had been recovered from a deceased donor that morning. He didn’t get the message until Saturday night.

“The doctor told me that the kidney had a 50 percent chance of lasting six months,” he said.

Beck’s doctor might have underestimated a bit. The 83-year-old will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his transplant on Oct. 29. It is a significant milestone as Beck is considered to be among the longest living survivors in the world with a functioning kidney, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

But with Beck, it’s about more than quantity, it’s quality of life that matters.

“Any chance he has to make a difference, he takes it,” said Cathi Arends of Life Connection Ohio. “Whether it’s mentoring a young person or giving someone who needs a transplant hope, he is there for them. One of the things he frequently says is that he wanted to make the most of his second chance and he has done just that.”

Beck founded the Wright STEPP program at Wright State University in 1987. The Science, Technology, and Engineering Preparatory Program was designed to enhance the development and education of youth underrepresented in the fields of engineering, math, and science.

Beyond the classroom, Beck had a 31-year career at Wright-Patterson and was the first black president of the Dayton Engineers Club. He is a Donate Life Ambassador for Life Connection of Ohio and serves on several community boards.

“He is our voice in the community and we are so glad to have him working with us,” Arends said.

And Beck is happy to have the opportunity – just like he was when he was given the opportunity by the University of Cincinnati more than six decades ago.

“I was definitely a pioneer in many ways and I’m proud of that,” he said.


Organ donation

There are currently more than 3,400 patients waiting for transplants in Ohio alone – more than 115,500 nationally – and that need continues to grow. According to Life Connection Ohio, another person is added to the National Transplant Waiting List every 10 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for a transplant.

For more information or to register as an organ and tissue donor, call Life Connection of Ohio at 800-535-9206 or visit www.donatelifeohio.org.

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