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Building bonds through organ donations, as transplant surgeries give hope for life

Organ donation saves or improves lives by the gift of life, sight, and health. Scientists have experimented with organ transplantation on animals and humans since the 18th century. Despite many failures along the way, by the mid-20th century, successful organ transplants were being performed at top medical centers globally.

In India, organ donation is legal by virtue of the Government of India law that enacted the Transplantation of Human Organs Act (THOA), 1994. More than half a million Indians are estimated to be in dire need of an organ transplant.

More than 200,000 people die of liver disease, nearly 50,000 from heart disease, 1,50,000 people are awaiting a kidney transplant and over 1,000,000 lakh people suffer from corneal blindness and await corneal transplants. Transplants dramatically improve the quality of life of the patient and give them another chance to survive. Today, transplants of kidneys, livers, hearts, pancreas, intestine, lungs, and heart-lungs are considered routine medical treatment.

Death may take a loved one away, but organs harvested in the right manner can stay and save another life. The law in India states that the prerogative on the decision for deceased donors eventually rests with the next of kin of the deceased. While most organs that are transplanted are from deceased donors, patients may also receive organs from living donors. Living persons can donate a kidney, portions of the liver, lung, pancreas, intestines, blood, and still continue to live a normal life. Living donors fill the gap of lack of cadaveric donor organs. Parents, children, husbands, wives, friends, co-workers, and even total strangers are living-donor candidates.

Transplantation teams adhere to strict parameters in donor matching systems by tissue typing, and other medical parameters before living donors are accepted as organ donors. Advancements in post-transplant immunosuppressive treatments are part of the success story of organ transplants today.

Successful liver transplants are being routinely performed worldwide including India. This procedure is lifesaving in persons whose liver has been damaged beyond performing normal functions – end stage liver disease.

Unlike heart, kidney, or lung failure where an external device may be able to take up function, the failing liver has no such alternative. However, the unique ability of the liver to regenerate is the basis of a twofold successful transplant surgery; one, the donor’s organ grows back to its original size and healthy status post-surgery and two, the recipient is replaced with a healthy liver that begins to perform liver function normally. 

Liver transplants may be:

  • Deceased donor transplant of a liver that has been removed from a person who died recently 
  • Living donor liver transplant involving a section of liver removed from a living donor; both the transplanted section and the remaining section of the donor’s liver are able to regrow into a normal-sized liver due to the regenerative capacity of the liver
  • Swap liver transplant where two different families benefit by swapping healthy livers to a matched diseased livers among them

Since liver transplant surgery is a major surgery and not without some risks, researchers are trying to grow livers in the laboratory using breakthrough biotechnological techniques. Until such time, liver transplant surgery via organ donation remains the only way to replace diseased livers.