With so many bad and heartbreaking stories being reported in the news, it was with great interest that I came across an article about a fantastic new development in liver transplantation that is happening right here in Melbourne!
My regular readers will know that my husband had a liver transplant almost 3 years ago at the Austin Hospital.
He was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) when he was about 18, and lived with the condition until his liver began to fail in his late 30s.
He was put on the transplant list after a particular nasty infection that nearly killed him, but then had to wait another long and stressful 14 months for the call.
In fact, the call came just in time, as he had just come home from another hospital stay, and the doctors were extremely worried about him.
Two weeks after his 40th birthday, he started a new life, and hasn’t looked back!
The fantastic news is that researchers at the Austin Hospital have created a machine that keeps the donor liver functioning after being removed from the body…it is a clever machine that tricks the liver into thinking it is still in the body!
This is amazing as it means the donor liver can be tested thoroughly, and the doctors/surgeons can see how it is functioning, including seeing it making bile.
What currently happens with a donor liver is it is removed from the donor, the blood is flushed out and then it is placed on ice for up to 8 hours for transportation and testing.
When the liver is then transplanted into the recipient, there is a risk of shock as the blood flow is restored…my husband experienced issues during the transplant, giving the surgeons are rather nasty few moments, but thankfully, the new liver settled in.
This new machine can prevent this happening as the blood flow can be simulated, and there is no cooling down.
Also, the surgeons and doctors can only do so much to test a liver to see if its suitable…and sometimes the liver fails for a reason that is not found when it is checked, leaving the recipient in dire straits till another donor liver can be found…and it has to be found in hurry as the patient will only survive for a day or two…
My husband and many others we know have had “dummy runs”, where you get called in, only to be sent home when the liver is deemed not suitable.
This machine will be able to maybe use more donor livers that previously would not be considered, and be able to test them thoroughly for suitability.
The other purpose that hopefully this machine will be able to do in the future, is be developed further into a life support system that can keep people in severe liver failure alive while waiting for a donor liver to become available….similar to dialysis machines for kidney patients.
Currently, if the liver fails before a suitable donor liver is found, then there is nothing that can be done…we know of a couple of people who died before getting a transplant.
In fact the article quotes some sobering facts…in 2013, the year after my husband had his transplant, 29 people die waiting, which is more than for any other organ.
Makes us realise just how lucky my husband was to not only stay well enough to remain on the list, but to actually get a donor liver in time.
We are also lucky to be under the care of the Austin Hospital Liver Transplant Unit, with new developments such as this allowing more patients to get their second chance.
And of course, none of this would be possible if not for the generosity of the donors and their loved ones…we are eternally grateful.