Wed, Dec 08, 2004 - Page 2 News List

First-of-a-kind transplant ends in success

BLOOD TIES Taipei surgeons successfully transplanted a kidney from a husband to his wife, despite the couple having different blood groups, giving hope to other patients

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

It had never occurred to Yiu Kuo-shun (余國順) that he would spend his 60th birthday on the operating table donating his kidney to his wife, Hu Pao-chu (胡寶珠), who had suffered years of kidney failure. Nor did he expect that this act of love, a transplant between donors of different blood types, would make Hu a landmark case in the country's surgical history.

Surgeons at the National Taiwan University Hospital yesterday announced the country's first transplant of its type had been successful, a groundbreaking development that could save lives and increase the number of available kidneys for patients on an ever-growing waiting list.

"In the complex world of organ transplants, there has long been a simple rule. Both donor and recipient must be from the same blood group. The major obstacle for the surgery lies in non-matching blood types," said Lee Po-huang (李伯皇), chief of surgery at the hospital.

Hu, 55, prepared for the operation the week before with four injections of replacement plasma from her husband. She also took oral inhibitors to suppress her immune system and reduce the chance of rejection.

During the operation, surgeons removed Hu's spleen, which fights infection and would have triggered an immune response, before transplanting Yiu's healthy kidney.

Hu is recovering well and shows no sign of rejection.

"We will still be husband and wife in the next life," Hu said at a ceremony held for her before leaving the hospital yesterday.

The successful operation has profound implications for patients in need of a transplant, said Hu's doctor, Tsai Meng-kun (蔡孟昆).

"The shortage of organs has long troubled patients and their families. Before this success, family members with different blood types could only watch helplessly as the patient's health deteriorated during the long, anxious wait for organs," Tsai said.

Tsai said that while only around 100 people are diagnosed each year as brain dead and therefore listed as potential donors, as many as 1,500 new patients line up each year to claim an organ.

The hospital's success means that matching organ donors and recipients will become much simpler and patients will stand a better chance of receiving an organ transplant in time.

"This surgical achievement opens a door to hope. It allows families with different blood types to donate their kidneys to save their loved ones," Tsai said.

Curiously, no statistics on the survival rate of transplant patients are readily available here, but Lee cited Japan's experience as an indicator of the procedure's live-saving potential.

"Last year, surgeons in Japan performed over 700 live kidney operations, where over 20 percent of cases had donors and recipients with different blood types. Over 97 percent of the patients live five years longer after surgery," Lee said.

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