Doctors have performed the first ever organ transplant from a newborn baby in the UK, in two operations described as a “milestone” in pediatric care.
The kidney and liver cells of a six-day-old girl with severe brain damage, who tragically died, were donated to two other patients suffering from renal and liver failure respectively.
The operations were the first of their kind in the UK. Experts say there is huge potential for more similarly beneficial operations, but that current guidelines are too strict.
Doctors hailed the decision of the donor’s parents “extraordinary generosity,” in allowing their daughter’s organs to be given to other ill children.
Writing in the journal Fetal & Neonatal Edition of Archives of Disease in Childhood, doctors said the infant was born with extreme health difficulties. They noted that her brain had been starved of oxygen before she was born and she had “profound” brain damage.
“When we explained to the parents of the baby girl it could be possible to save some lives with their help they were only too keen,” Dr. Gaurav Atreja, a neonatologist at Imperial College Healthcare, told The Telegraph. “They came back wanting to speak to me again within a couple of hours.”
“They didn’t need any persuading — not that that is something we would ever try to do,” said Dr. Atreja. “It’s a decision that has to come from the parents without any pressure.”
Surgeons involved in the operation said it was a difficult and extremely intricate procedure, as kidneys at this stage of development are only roughly 5cm long. They didn’t comment on the recipient patients, but said neonatal organs could be donated to patients throughout the age spectrum, from babies to adults.
“A significant proportion of babies who die in neonatal units are potential organ donors,” the authors write. “Although the long-term data regarding graft function are not yet available, we feel that potential neonatal organ donation should be a part of management for all withdrawals.”
Current guidelines make it difficult to identify infants who could be potential organ donors, but new guidelines are anticipated in the near future and are expected to create a standardized approach to organ donation among newborns. The authors also say they hope the new guidelines will change the way people think about the process.
“We hope that neonatal units across the UK will actively start thinking about this noble cause, which makes the grieving family’s journey easier, and has the potential to transform another life.”