Finding the right procedure for you
Organ transplantation is the surgical procedure of removing an organ from your body and replacing it with a healthy one, which comes from either a donor or yourself. Transplantation is necessary because the recipient’s organ has failed or has been damaged by disease or injury. This procedure can be life-changing for a person, providing a much higher quality of life.
It is however a major surgery that comes with risks, so it is important for you to learn as much information as possible before deciding on the procedure so you and your loved ones know what to expect.
What types of organ transplantation are there?
The most regularly transplanted organ, a kidney transplant is an option of treatment for people facing long-term kidney failure. During the procedure, the damaged kidney is replaced with a healthy one from either a living or deceased donor. It can greatly improve the life of a person with long-term kidney problems and it is generally considered to be a safe and successful procedure. Before it’s carried out, a doctor will run tests to ensure you’re suited for it, such as blood, antibody, heart and ultrasound tests. You would then be added to a waiting list, which waiting time depends on the severity of your case, until they find the right match for you. In the UK, the average waiting time for a donor is 2 to 3 years.
A heart transplant is considered when a person is facing end-stage heart failure. Most people that are referred for this have a long-standing heart disease that has slowly worsened despite other treatments being tried, such as a pacemaker. If this is the case for you, you will be assessed at a transplant centre and have many tests to see if you’re suitable for the surgery, such as blood and antibody tests, an EKG and a chest X-ray. The waiting time varies depending on which category you are placed onto. Patients are initially placed on the Routine list, which on average has a wait of 3 years in USA, although you then might be added to the Urgent or Super Urgent list, depending on how your condition deteriorates.
Similar to a heart transplant, a lung transplant is for people facing end-stage lung failure and is usually only considered after they have tried other treatments or medications. If offered, it can either be a single-lung or double-lung transplant, most of which come from deceased donors. You will only be considered if the doctors are confident that it will make a difference for your condition. To do so, they will review your case and carry out tests, such as blood tests and diagnostic tests, which can consist of pulmonary function tests, CT scans, ultrasounds, etc. The waiting list has an average wait of 18 months in the UK against only five to six months in Spain.
A liver transplant is usually reserved as a treatment option for people who have significant complications due to end-stage chronic liver disease. Major causes of failure include hepatitis B and C, excessive alcohol consumption, fatty liver disease and genetic disorders. Liver transplant may also be a treatment option in rare cases of sudden failure of a previously healthy liver.
For now, this is the only way to treat liver failure, as there is no machine that can provide full function to all parts of the liver. A doctor will run a lot of medical tests to ensure you’re physically fit enough for the operation, such as blood, antibody, fitness and heart tests as well as MRI or CT scans. After this, you would be added to a waiting list, which takes an average of 3 to 5 months in the UK and the USA, although this varies by case.
If your pancreas is not producing sufficient levels of insulin, it can lead to unhealthy blood sugar levels, causing type 1 diabetes. A pancreas transplant may be the right option for treatment, especially if you’re facing serious complications due to the condition. It is not usually offered to people with type 2 diabetes, as it is rarely suitable for treating the issues they face with this type.
For people with type 1 diabetes, this could be a great option to improve their quality of life as after having the procedure, there is usually no need for insulin injections as there will be better control of blood sugar levels. To have this treatment, you will have an eligibility assessment at a transplant centre, where doctors would carry out tests and make sure you are aware of the commitment of taking immunosuppressant medication for as long as the transplant lasts.
Small bowel transplant
This transplant would be considered if a person is facing intestinal failure and has complications from total parenteral nutrition (TPN), or if TPN is not an option. Someone under TPN receives nutrition through fluids given into a vein as their bowel can no longer absorb nutrients from food, which is often caused by short bowel syndrome, where a large part of the small bowel is either missing or damaged. If you’re considered for a small bowel transplant, you will be referred to a transplant assessment where you will have tests to check your eligibility, such as blood tests, scans and a colonoscopy. After this, you would wait an average of 2 months (in the UK) for a transplant.
Skin graft transplant
This is a surgical procedure to remove a healthy patch of tissue from one part of your body and transplanting it to a different area of your body where the skin has been damaged, such as through a burn, injury or illness. There are two main types: a split-thickness or full-thickness graft. The difference between the two is the amount of skin taken from the donor site. A split-thickness skin graft removes the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) and only a portion of the dermis (the deeper layer of the skin).
The patient will be sedated before treatment and the skin graft will be attached to the affected area using stitches, staples, clips or special glue. It will then covered with a dressing until it connects to the surrounding blood supply, which takes an average of 5-7 days. After this, the patient is expected to have a healing time of around 3 to 4 weeks, for which your doctor will advise you what is safe to do.
Why go abroad for treatment
Unfortunately, the need for donors is much bigger than the amount of people who donate. This results in longer waiting periods for people who need life-changing surgery, an issue that has only gotten worse since COVID-19 began. This is why the market for having transplants overseas has grown exponentially, and there are many benefits for people seeking treatment:
- Avoid waiting lists – The time you will have to spend on a waiting for a transplant varies on its type and the country you’re in. Some countries have much shorter lead times than others due to an influx of donors. Going overseas means you could sometimes have recovered by the time you’re next in turn in your home country.
- Cheaper treatments – When undergoing a transplant procedure, one of the external factors that add a lot of stress is how much the treatment is going to cost and how this will impact your life. By choosing a country with more affordable yet still high-quality healthcare, you can book your treatment in hospitals that offer the same level of treatment as in western countries.
If you are looking for an organ transplant specialist, register your interest on our Patients page and we will inform you as soon as our platform goes live: brit-med.com/patients