February 25, 2016
EDMONTON – Local surgeons set three new transplant records last year, performing more lung and liver transplants – including liver transplants from living donors – than ever before in the city.
Last year, surgeons performed 61 lung transplants, eclipsing the previous record of 44 set in 2014. They performed 83 liver transplants, eclipsing the previous record of 80 set in 2007. And they transplanted 22 livers from a living donor, eclipsing the previous record of 16 set in 2013.
“This achievement would not be possible without the gift of life from living and deceased donors,” says Dr. Norman Kneteman, a liver transplant surgeon and Zone Clinical Section Chief for Transplant Services with Alberta Health Services (AHS). “These records were made possible thanks to an exceptional team including donor co-ordinators, intensive care staff, nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians, surgeons and staff. They care for both organ donors and organ recipients at this site and work tirelessly to support our transplant program.”
Edmonton is home to the second largest liver and lung transplant program in the country, exceeded only by Toronto.
All lung and liver organ transplants in Alberta are performed at the University of Alberta Hospital, the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
The 144 liver and lung transplants performed in 2015 involved a team of seven organ transplant surgeons: four thoracic (lungs/heart) surgeons and three hepatobiliary (liver, pancreas, and islet) surgeons, along with their surgical teams.
“I congratulate the transplant services team at the University of Alberta Hospital for this significant achievement,” says Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “Organ and tissue transplant procedures are only possible through the generosity of the donors and their families. More than 200,000 Albertans have registered their intent to donate; and I encourage more people to add their names to the donor registry as there are more than 700 people in Alberta waiting for an organ or tissue transplant.”
Tim Penstone is breathing easier since having a transplant at the University of Alberta Hospital last March. Diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – a chronic and ultimately fatal disease that causes swelling and scarring of the air sacs and tissue between cells of the lungs – the 63-year-old Edmonton man saw his lung capacity drastically reduce over an eight-month period.
“I was on oxygen full time; it really impacted my ability to do things,” says Penstone. “Walking up the stairs was extremely difficult.”
Penstone had been on the waiting list for a lung transplant for four months when he heard he could get a transplant. Today, he is feeling good and back to running his own company.
“Without a lung transplant, I may not be here today,” says Penstone. “I owe my life to my donor.”
While setting new records is a great achievement for the program, the need for organ donors in Alberta remains high. Liver and lung disease has become much more prevalent and, as outcomes and technologies improve, patients who would not have been suitable candidates 10 or 20 years ago are now being listed on the transplant list.
“We have the potential to perform more transplants each year but we are limited by the number of donor organs available,” says Dr. Kneteman. “About one-in-three patients from our liver and lung programs will die before a suitable liver or lung becomes available.”
Alberta currently has one of the lowest organ and tissue donor rates in the country. In 2014, the Alberta government launched an online organ and tissue donation registry, giving Albertans a way to record their wishes to donate organs and/or tissues after death. Albertans can also document their desire to donate organs and/or tissues at their local registry agent when they renew their driver’s license or other identification.
Since the launch of the online registry, more than 200,000 Albertans have legally registered to affirm their wishes to donate their organs and/or tissues.
Of the 61 lung transplants performed in 2015, 47 organs were from Alberta donors; of the 61 deceased donor liver transplants, 49 organs were from Alberta donors.
“While a record number of patients received life-saving liver and lung transplants last year, Albertans continue to die on the transplant list because a suitable donor was not made available,” says Dr. Kneteman. “The need for organs is constant.”
Albertans are urged to register their intent to donate through the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry link at myhealth.alberta.ca and to discuss their wishes with their family.
One deceased organ donor could provide a life-saving treatment for seven people by donating lungs, heart, liver, two kidneys, pancreas and small bowel. Only one to two per cent of deaths lead to organ donation; however, one deceased tissue donor can enhance up to 80 lives by donating corneas, sclera, heart valves, skin, bone, tendons or amniotic tissue.
The University Hospital Foundation has supported the transplant program since the program first pioneered transplants at the University of Alberta Hospital in 1967. Community donors have given more than $5.5 million to advance transplant patient care and research. The Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation has funded $4.8 million towards pediatric transplant since 2006. Donor funding to the SCHF is advancing children’s health care and making impressive strides in pediatric transplant research that is leading to amazing outcomes for kids and families at the Stollery.
Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.
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