Gustavo Chavez hopes his new kidney will also be his last. Chavez, 46, received his fifth kidney transplant June 15, 2010 at University Medical Center. “I tell myself and my family this could be the last one,’’ said the Yuma resident. “We’re hoping for at least 30 years.’’ University of Arizona nephrologist Dr. Bruce Kaplan said it is rare for a patient to receive five kidneys, but that Chavez could very possibly keep this kidney, donated by his brother, into his 70s. “He’s a model patient and a terrific person,’’ said Kaplan, who is a professor of medicine, pharmacology and surgery at UA, as well as chief of nephrology, medical director of transplant and the Jentsch Endowed Chair in Research “Gustavo is very motivated to take care of himself,’’ Kaplan said. “He’s taken what could be a really bad situation – being sick for all of these years – and he deals with it in a terrific manner.’’ In recent years, researchers, including Kaplan, have discovered that antibodies a patient develops through previous transplants and transfusions can result in damage and eventual rejection of a new organ. “Gustavo happened to be very fortunate to have a kidney that he didn’t already have antibodies against, which is quite unusual for a fifth transplant,’’ Kaplan said. Kaplan believes recent discoveries in how antibodies impact transplanted organs will result in more successful transplants. With his arrival at the UA less than two years ago, physicians have been able to offer patients with existing antibodies or differing blood types a better chance at transplantation. Improved understanding of antibodies means that subsequent transplants are now as likely to be as successful as first transplants. The average kidney transplant lasts 10 to 15 years. Until recently, physicians did not fully understand why organs were rejected. “Believe it or not, no one ever studied that issue. A few of us … believed there had to be a specific injury that occurred.’’ Kaplan hopes the science, along with careful use of anti-rejection medication, will result in improved long-term success, allowing people to live long, healthy lives. “That’s the goal, to carry on with life,’’ Kaplan said. And that’s what Chavez is doing, back at work and enjoying life. His kidneys were destroyed as a young child by obstructive uropathy, which causes urine to be blocked. His parents feared he would not survive childhood. Chavez, who grew up in Los Angeles, was placed on dialysis. In 1975, he received the kidney of a deceased donor at age 11, the first of four transplants performed on Chavez in Los Angeles hospitals. “I finally felt like a normal kid,’’ said Chavez, the second oldest in a family of seven children. “I started running around with my brothers. I worked in my dad’s printing business after school.’’ But at age 18, Chavez started to reject the kidney. While a college student, he received his second kidney, also from a deceased donor. That one lasted a year. At 21, Chavez received his third kidney from a deceased donor. After five years, the kidney started to fail. This time, Chavez’s younger brother, Adrian, donated one of his. “He was all for it,’’ Chavez recalled. “I knew the risks for him, and that was my big concern.’’ But the transplant was successful, and that kidney lasted 20 years. By fall 2009, it was clear a new kidney was needed, and brother Santiago, 33, was a match. “Santiago really stepped up to the plate,’’ said Chavez. “I’m so grateful to my whole family.’’ He has returned to life as usual, distributing medical supplies at a Yuma hospital, exercising, spending time with friends and family and cheering on his beloved Oakland Raiders. “I’m just appreciating life right now,’’ he said.