The medical industry has found a way to cheat biology.
Despite being faced with a large number of people wait-listed for live organ transplants, doctors often have to turn away hopeful donors because they aren’t matches for their family members or friends.
“The need for organs is very high, but the supply was short because we were declining donors,” said Alberta Health Services surgeon Dr. Mauricio Monroy-Cuadros, medical director for the living donor program for the Southern Alberta transplant program.
However, instead of turning away donors unable to give organs to family members or friends, doctors have begun mixing and matching incompatible donors-recipient pairs to maximize the amount of transplants possible.
The process is possible through the Living Donor Paired Exchange, a national organ and tissue registry developed by Canadian Blood Services.
In a medical first for Calgary, Monroy-Cuadros and a surgical team participated in a domino kidney transplant, involving eight coordinated surgeries in three different provinces this past spring.
A donor from B.C. travelled to Calgary and donated a kidney to a local recipient while the Calgary’s patient’s partner travelled to Ontario and gave a kidney to a recipient there.
Meanwhile, the Ontario patient’s partner travelled to B.C. to donate a kidney to a patient whose partner gave a kidney to another B.C. patient.
All eight surgeries — totalling four transplants — were performed simultaneously, meaning four Canadians received life-saving organ donations the same day.
Travel costs for the Calgary donor were covered by the Living Organ and Donor Reimbursement Programs for Albertans, funded by the province.
Monroy-Cuadros said there are many benefits to domino surgeries including increasing the donor pool and reducing the time patients spend on a wait list.
“And because you are getting a living donor, the life expectancy is much longer than getting organs from deceased donors,” he added.
“And if you get better matches with donors, the risk for rejection is lower.”
About 40 transplants have happened nationwide since domino surgeries were first introduced in Canada last year, following in the footsteps of the U.S., which began the surgeries in 2006.
Monroy-Cuadros said as the process develops, doctors may look at sending just the organs to patients rather than the donors.
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