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John Mendes: Oldest and longest-surviving kidney transplant is still farming at age 91
In 2006, Frank Mendes visited his familys old Sears house in west Lathrop which was abandoned at that time and awaiting demolition to make way for a new housing development around where Lathrop High School today. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Like many farmers in the area at this time of the year, John Mendes is busy cutting and baling hay in the fields, and storing them for winter feed.

That’s all part of the year-round farming routine as the seasons come and go – fall, winter, spring and summer. There’s just one difference when it comes to John Mendes driving the tractor and baler in the summer sun. He will be 91 years old on Saturday, June 8.

But that’s not the only special thing about this longtime Manteca farmer. He happens to be the oldest and longest surviving kidney transplant in medical history according to the hospital where the surgery was performed. It’s been nine years since he had the transplant at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. And he’s still taking care of his roughly 12-acre field in rural south Manteca.

On Sunday, several generations of family members will celebrate this milestone in his life. The get together will be doubly significant because the day also will be a celebration of the birthday of his younger brother, Frank Mendes, who turned 90 on June 4.

Hosting this family affair is none other than another special member of the family – the nonagenarians’ nephew, Raymond Mendes, who was the one who volunteered the life-saving act of donating one of his kidneys to his uncle who has always counted Raymond as the son he never had. John Mendes has three daughters.

The kidney transplant was so successful John did not encounter any post-operative problem since the surgery. He just had one “false alarm” two years ago which turned out to be a urinary tract infection. He had to remain in the hospital for a couple of days because his temperature was high.

He initially went to an outreach clinic in Modesto every month for follow-up checks after the transplant. Now, he only has to pay annual visits. He only takes two different pills, one of which is an anti-rejection medication. Except for a hay fever awhile ago, he has been feeling healthy and strong enough to cut and bale the hay in the fields. He was cutting hay last week; this week, he went and started baling.

Was on dialysis for 18 months

Before the transplant, John was going through dialysis. He later had the procedure done at home so he didn’t have to go to the lab. He had what is called peritoneal dialysis. The equipment was hooked up to a port and then into his stomach and he was able to sleep through the night during the dialysis procedure.

He was on dialysis for about a year and a half and was on the transplant waiting list when, one day, his nephew offered to donate to his beloved uncle one of his kidneys.

John and Frank Mendes had a younger brother, Alvin, and a younger sister, Laura Rothlin. They grew up, first at a ranch in Lathrop just a stone’s throw away from Lathrop High School is located at Mossdale Landing west of Interstate 5 and east of the San Joaquin River. Laura, who is married to retired dairy farmer Arnold Rothlin, recalled that their parents, Frank Sr. and Etelvina Mendes, first had the small dairy and ranch in Lathrop where John and Frank were born, and later moved to another small dairy at Graves Road in Manteca. The family later moved back to the same old farm in Lathrop and that’s when Laura was born. She attended the old Lathrop Grammar School which was located where today’s Lathrop Elementary on Fifth Street is located.

Alvin Mendes, who was six years older than Laura, was killed during the Korean War. His body was never found and was never brought back to his family in the U.S. The tragedy “tore my parents up,” Laura recalled. Their family “never could get any information” about what happened to their missing-in-action soldier sibling up to this day, she said. That is why Memorial Day is always an emotional experience for the entire family. At the last Memorial Day service they attended, all three siblings – John, Frank and Laura, along with other members of the family – were all at the Veterans Memorial Wall at Valverde Park in Lathrop where the program was held.

Alvin was not the only Mendes brother who served in the service. Frank also served in the Army. John was never drafted. “In those days, they wouldn’t allow three brothers” to be in the military at the same time, Laura said.