A six-day-old baby has donated her kidneys in a British medical first which doctors say could give hope to hundreds of babies and children.
Each year around 1,000 people die on UK waiting lists, with widespread shortages of donors and difficulties finding organs small enough for the youngest infants.
Experts said the case at Imperial College Healthcare trust is a significant breakthrough, which could save many lives in future - both by enabling more transplants in younger children, and increasing the total pool of donors, as children’s organs can be used in adults.
Dr Gaurav Atreja, consultant Neonatologist, said the change “set a milestone” in the care of newborns, and could give some comfort to bereaved parents of those who die within days or weeks of birth.
The donor was a baby girl born at term after an emergency caesarean section in the neonatal unit of Hammersmith Hospital, London, last year.
She weighed almost seven pounds, but was found to have been starved of oxygen during the pregnancy, which left her unable to move or respond to stimuli.
The case – the first successful organ donation from a newborn to be carried out in the UK - is reported in the Fetal & Neonatal Edition of Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The child’s kidneys, were transplanted into a patient with renal failure, and liver cells were transfused into a second recipient.
Doctors said they were unable to disclose the beneficiary of the successful donation, but said the case was significant, because newborn donors could not only help young recipients, but also result in a larger pool of donors for all ages.
Despite their size, children’s organs can be used successfully in adults, but adult organs are often too big for children.
Dr Atreja said a significant proportion of newborns who die in neonatal units could be potential organ donors, saving the lives of other sick patients.
Current guidelines make it difficult for potential donors to be identified, because it is difficult to establish cases whether a neonatal infant has lost all brain function.
New guidelines from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health due shortly are expected to clarify the rules, to increase the number of donors.
Doctors involved in the case, which occurred last year, said that the donation of organs helped to make the grieving family’s journey easier, with “the potential to transform another life.”
The baby’s kidneys, just an inch and a half long, were around one third the size of an adult’s, doctors said, but such organs are fully functioning after around 37 weeks in the womb .
Dr Atreja said: "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. 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. It's a decision that has to come from the parents without any pressure.
"It's a very sensitive and difficult issue which is why we have a very experienced clinical psychologist to help them through the process."
Professor James Neuberger, Associate Medical Director for Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We are pleased that the first transplant of organs from a newborn in the UK was a success and we also praise the brave decision of the family to donate their baby’s organs.
"Agreeing to donate happens at a heart-breaking time in a family’s life and our thoughts go out to all families that find themselves in this position.
“The sad reality is that for everybody to get the lifesaving transplant they are desperately in need of, more families who are facing the tragic loss of their young child will need to agree to donation.”