Sunday 20 August 2017

Vital organs donated by people who beat cancer

Patients receive live-saving transplants from survivors as 600 languish on the waiting list

600 people remain on waiting lists for life-saving heart, lung, liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants Stock photo: PA
600 people remain on waiting lists for life-saving heart, lung, liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants Stock photo: PA
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Seriously ill patients across Ireland are receiving organ transplants from former cancer sufferers amid a chronic shortage of donors, figures have revealed.

In the past five years, there have been six vital transplants involving donors who previously battled cancer.

Experts said there is still a common misconception that those who have had cancer are precluded from organ donation. Meanwhile, 600 people remain on waiting lists for life-saving heart, lung, liver, kidney, and pancreas transplants.

In an effort to try to reduce the backlog, special "opt-out" legislation could be introduced by next year. Under this proposal, anyone who dies suddenly is assumed to have been willing to donate their organs for possible transplantation, unless they previously indicated otherwise.

However, it is proposed that a final decision will still remain with the next of kin.

Most donations are from people who have been declared brainstem dead, according to the HSE. Donations can also take place following a cardiac death.

Certain organs such as a kidney can be donated by a living person - this usually involves a blood relation of the recipient.

Figures obtained by the Sunday Independent show three transplants were carried out last year involving a donor who previously suffered from cancer.

In 2015, there were two transplants involving a cancer survivor. And, in 2013, one procedure was carried out involving someone who had also beaten the disease, according to Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland.

Medical experts said there are circumstances in which organs from cancer patients are safe to use. But each organ must be evaluated to ensure there is no risk of tumours spreading to the recipient.

Mark Murphy, chief executive of the Irish Kidney Association, said much depends on the type of cancer involved.

"Some cancers don't go into the bloodstream. In the case of a kidney, it is possible to remove the cancer from the organ, and reuse it as a useful kidney in someone else," he said

"Loads of people have small skin cancers and they are not excluded from being organ donors - if this was treated. Potential donors are always excluded if they are deemed medically unsuitable."

Out of 40 countries, Croatia tops the EU league table for "deceased donations", with Spain coming a close second. They have held the top two positions since 2010. Ireland continues to lag behind and now stands in 18th position, having dropped from sixth in 2006.

A total of 280 organ transplants were carried out in this country last year, including 172 kidney transplants, 58 liver transplants and 15 heart transplants. Some 230 of these organs came from 77 deceased donors, while 50 were from living kidney donors.

A further 16 Irish patients received life-saving organ transplants in the UK in 2016.

Organ transplantation takes place in three national transplant centres in Ireland.

Beaumont is the national renal transplant centre with 21 dedicated transplant beds, 12 of which are single en-suite rooms. It provides kidney transplantation and is also the national centre for living kidney organ donation.

The Mater Hospital is the national heart and lung transplant centre, while St Vincent's Hospital specialises in liver transplants. Children are referred to the UK for heart, lung and liver transplants. Each transplant centre has its own organ retrieval team.

Sunday Independent

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