Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nineteen eighty-four

Posted by on 06/10 at 02:09 PM I recently walked past Jefferson hospital and noticed their flags which proudly announce the 25th anniversary of the first liver transplant. In the Delaware Valley, that is. Sounds a bit like celebrating the first contact lens - - - sitting on my very own eyes (oh wait, I did celebrate that a couple of months ago!). Still: Is the Jefferson 1984 transplant a reason to cheer?

Well, a transplant Grinch might scoff, on a global scale this anniversary is not the most noteworthy one. After all, the first human liver transplant was performed 17 years previously (in 1967) in Denver, Colorado. Yes, that is the same year in which the first handheld calculator was invented, and a year before the very first ATM was installed (incidentally, by the by First Philadelphia Bank – another ‘first’ for them, eh?). Yep, that’s right: no one had even heard of a floppy disk before, and a compact disc was someone that you hoped did not happen to your own spine, and yet there was this little bit of liver which successfully worked away at detoxifying, protein synthesis, and the production of biochemicals necessary for digestion in a body it was not born into. Fascinating stuff if you think about it. And the patient who got this new liver is still alive, kicking and happy today.

So, while I was sipping a celebratory gulp of my morning coffee on that, I also realized I had no idea about the history of organ transplants, even though I’ve been a potential donor for years (and for a good reason, may I add: two years ago exactly a total number of 73,850 people waiting for a kidney in the US alone – about half of which had only just found out that they needed one, and less than a quarter of them would get a transplant in the next year; add to that the fact that, if the kidney comes from a deceased donor, it is more likely to fail, and that only 80% work for five years or more, and there you have it. Do I hear the word dialysis? Well, if that’s your idea of a fun way to spend, on average, four hours a time, three times a week, linked to a machine, then fair play to yis, but otherwise…).

According to my trustworthy source (hello there, Wikipedia), people tried to transplant skin first, and then other bodily tissues, for millennia (!) before they finally were successful just a little more than a century ago. Have a list of successful transplants:

1905: cornea; 1954: kidney; 1966: pancreas; 1967: live; 1967: heart; 1981: heart/lung…

…and then nothing happened for a long time until, 11 years ago, French surgeons had the next big hit with a hand; and four years ago again with a partial face (you probably remember that one).

Not interested? Here’s hoping that neither you nor me ever need to be. But meanwhile, I advocate celebrating events like the Jefferson anniversary whenever possible. It may just make you feel a little bit more alive.

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Comment posted by Tom Tritton on 06/10 at 02:52 PM

Even brain transplants may not be that far-fetched, at least if you think that computing devices may one day be implnated in our heads. It probably can’t come too soon judging by the actions of many of our fellow citizens.

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