How Organ Transplant Works


The misconception that all patients in need of organ donation are responsible for their ill health should not suffice. Of course, there are instances that people smoke or take alcohol to the extremes, leading to the failure of these vital organs. But this is not usually the scenario for all organ damage cases. Why? Sometimes, genetics are to blame. A good example is in the case of cystic fibrosis. Good news however is, donor transplant can alter the sad situation. Donation may come from a living person, or from a patient declared medically brain-dead.

For a living donor, donation is only possible if survival is not compromised by the absence of one of the organs, like part of the liver or one kidney. For very vital organs however, like the heart and lungs, only patients who have been declared brain dead can be donors. When a patient's brain loses all functions, but the very important organs are still functional, they can be extracted and used to assist patients whose organs have failed. To keep them viable, a ventilator is artificially used to pump oxygen onto the lungs of a patient. Since the heart does not require the presence of the brain to beat, blood continues to circulate in the body, maintaining oxygen supply to the organs. Later on, surgeons extract these organs and implant them into the body of a matching patient.

To find a perfect match for the donation, a lot of procedures have to be undertaken. For a start, the blood type of the patient has to be considered. Other factors like body size, tissue type, severity of the patient's condition among others have to be put into perspective too.

After the transplant surgery is complete, a new phase of challenge begins in the form of organ rejection. This can be a tough battle whose onset is as a result of the patient's system failing to recognize antigens from a foreign organ. It is therefore treated as a threat and fought tirelessly. This condition can be minimized by closely matching a patient and donor's organ. Alternatively, immunosuppressant can be used to limit immune reaction.

The Path from A to AB

Following is the journey from diagnosis, donation and finally recovery;

Ø Diagnosis- A transplant can be a needed respite for a number of medical conditions including diabetes mellitus, cystic fibrosis and coronary artery disease.

Ø Situational Evaluation- After diagnosis, the transplant team which includes surgeons, coordinators and nurses perform tests that form the basis of a result of a transplant match. Before a living donor's organ is extracted, the person goes through a series of physical as well as mental tests.

Ø Waiting Period- Patients on the waiting list are notified as soon as a perfect match is identified. It can drag for ages. As soon as the organ is found however, it cannot survive out of the living body for a given period. A heart can only last a maximum 6 hours, while a kidney may go for 24-36 hours.

Ø Patient Preparation- As soon as a match is found, the transplant team assesses the patient's condition if it is suitable for the intended procedure. For kidney donations of living donors, tests are carried out to determine immune response in case of blood combinations.

Ø Recovery of Organs- A deceased person's body is opened up for organ extraction. For heart transplants, blood vessels are held tightly before a preservation solution for the heart is added. These vessels are then cut and heart intricately extracted.

Ø Actual Transplant- The surgeon opens up the recipient patient's body to remove the damaged organ before replacing it with the new one. During the delicate procedure, a bypass machine for the heart and lungs is availed to pump blood. Once the operation is complete, the new heart begins to function.

Ø Patient Recovery- The convalescing patient is closely monitored for signs of organ rejection or any other complications. To prevent the immune system from detecting a new organ, immunosuppressant drugs are used for a long time.

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