'Lung washing' gives fresh hope to those waiting on transplants
Patients who are desperate for a life-saving transplant have been given fresh hope after a pioneering treatment of "washing" donor lungs was successfully performed in Ireland.
The treatment, known as Ex-Vivo Lung Perfusion (EVLP), takes organs that might otherwise be unusable and makes them good for transplantation.
It allowed cystic fibrosis patient Leigh Bagnall (20) to receive new lungs in a procedure at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.
It could help some of the 30 patients who are on the waiting list and ultimately increase the number of successful transplant procedures at the hospital.
Surgeon Karen Redmond, who led the transplant team, said the technique allows for donor lungs to be reconditioned to make them safe for transplantation.
The process helps find potential infection or a clot which can be removed over the course of four hours.
There are currently 30 people on the waiting list for a new lung at the Mater and this process means that half of all donated lungs deemed unsuitable can now be used.
They can then be transplanted into patients with cystic fibrosis or conditions like pulmonary fibrosis. Ms Redmond said a similar system is in place to recondition kidneys and there are also plans to invest in a system for donor hearts.
"We did 35 lung transplants last year and are aiming to increase this to 50 or 60 transplants," she said.
The technique was first performed in Sweden a decade ago but it took a long time for people to accept the concept.
She noted studies indicated these lungs were as good as or even better than organs transplanted directly.
"We have five transplant surgeons here who work as a team," she added.
"All have come back from abroad. I worked in London and others came from Toronto and Stanford.
"We work incredibly well. Two weeks ago there was a possibility of carrying out two single lung transplants for patients with pulmonary fibrosis.
"Transplantation is the only way for them, otherwise they won't survive.
"All staff agreed to come in and do the transplants."
Ms Redmond described the dramatic change a life-saving transplant can mean to a patient.
"For older patients, it means they might be able to attend their son's wedding.
"Young patients can just get on with life and this gives them an independence they never had."
Prof Jim Egan of the National Organ Donation and Transplant Office said the success of the operation once again highlighted the value of transplantation.
He said the number of organs donated last year increased by 10pc.
Different support systems are now in place in order to increase organ donation, including the appointment of co-ordinators and managers, he added.
The Irish Kidney Association said the rate of deceased organ donors for 2015 was "above average".
It said it was delighted so many lung, heart and liver transplants were performed.
However, it was concerned that not as many kidney transplants were carried out.