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Team sets transplant record

January 2, 2014

Donors’ generosity spurs transplant of 30 organs over 10 days in Edmonton

Story by Sharman Hnatiuk; Photo by Mathew Martin

EDMONTON — Vernen Foreman was working under his truck the afternoon he got the call he’d been waiting for; less than eight hours later the 58-year-old city man was in the operating room receiving a deceased donor’s liver during the busiest transplant marathon in the history of Alberta Health Services (AHS).

The transplant services team at the University of Alberta Hospital (UAH) performed a hospital-record 30 organ transplants between Sept. 29 and Oct. 8 — three lung, two heart, eight liver, five islet, one kidney/pancreas and 11 kidney transplants.

Typically, surgeons at the AHS facility perform between 20 and 25 organ transplants a month; however, the increase in transplant activity became possible thanks to the generosity of nine deceased donors, who gave 27 organs, and three living donors, who gave a kidney or part of their liver.

“This is a remarkable achievement, especially when you consider the actions that need to happen quickly to make a transplant surgery possible,” says Dr. Norman Kneteman, liver transplant surgeon and Zone Clinical Section Chief, Transplant Services, AHS.

“Thanks to an exceptional team — including donor coordinators, nurses, allied health professionals, physicians, surgeons and staff at this site — we are able to pull together the resources needed for a transplant to happen in a short amount of time, even during a period of high demand like we recently experienced.”

All organ transplants in AHS Edmonton Zone are performed at the UAH/Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute by a team of 13 organ transplant surgeons: seven thoracic (lungs/heart) surgeons, three kidney surgeons, and three hepatobiliary (liver, pancreas, small intestine, islet) surgeons.

One deceased organ donor can provide life-saving treatment for seven people by donating lungs, heart, liver, two kidneys, pancreas and small bowel. For healthcare professionals, asking a family about organ donation after a diagnosis of brain death, or prior to discontinuation of care, of their loved ones is challenging. Thanks to nine patients and their families, their decision to donate afforded life-saving treatment to 30 individuals across the province.

Dr. Kneteman stresses, however, that this recent surge in organ donors doesn’t reduce the need for organ donation in the city.

“Despite the record we just broke, and the increases in the number of people benefiting from transplantation, one in four patients on the transplant list will die due to a shortage of available organs,” he says. “During the past five years, more than 200 Albertans within the Edmonton area died while awaiting transplant.”

Vernen Foreman has high praise for his surgical team, and for the nurses who took care of him on the transplant ward after his surgery, but also recognizes it would not have been possible without the strength of his donor’s family to make a difficult decision.

“I feel like I have to live for two people now,” says Foreman. “The person who gave me their liver gave me a wonderful gift, and I have to make good on my end to look after it and to live happy.”

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