April 1, 2008

Transplant Manitoba Expands Program

Record Number of Kidney Transplants Performed in 2007

From the research lab to the operating room, Transplant Manitoba is making strides that are changing lives and impacting the medical field.

As an integral component of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA), Transplant Manitoba and its adult kidney transplant program has been a pioneer in patient-based research and development, receiving funding from Canadian and U.S. governments for its innovations.

"We are like the mouse that roared, a small program but with a lot of weight in terms of ideas and research," said Dr. David Rush, a transplant nephrologist who's been with the adult kidney transplant program since 1982 and its director since 2004.

"One area has been diagnostic methods. It's improving our ability to diagnose and treat rejections of kidney transplants, and the performance of studies that have become national and international utilizing those techniques."

Based at Health Sciences Centre, the region's largest tertiary care hospital, the program's dedicated team of staff was also behind a variety of initiatives that contributed to a record number of kidney transplants being performed in 2007. After only 30 kidney transplants were done in 2004, WRHA increased resources for its transplant program based on recommendations of a review by program staff. This also led to the creation of Transplant Manitoba's Gift of Life program, the organ donor organization, in 2005.

These funds also allowed for an increase in transplant co-ordinators, clinical staff, operating room slates and a full-time social worker, Rush said.

By 2006, the number of kidney transplants had increased to 48. Last year, the number reached 52, a record since the program's inception in 1969. Those 100 transplants were a 72 per cent increase from 2004–05.

"And this support is on-going," Rush said. "The support of our leadership at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and at Health Sciences Centre has been invaluable. I think they deserve a lot of credit for this increase in transplants."

Organ Donation Awareness

One key area of expansion has been organ donation awareness to the general public and among health professionals.

All across the province, doctors, nurses and allied workers are kept up to date with what Transplant Manitoba is doing in an effort to increase the number of donors. The success of this program relies heavily on the skill and expertise of health care staff to work with families at these very difficult times.

"Transplant Manitoba has worked very hard to increase awareness among healthcare workers and understand their important role in obtaining consent for organ donation," said Dr. Helmut Unruh, a lung transplant surgeon and director of the lung transplant program.

"Just the fact that we now have a dedicated donor organization in Manitoba with expectations of deliverables has improved the system."

Unruh has been leading the lung transplant program within the Winnipeg health region since it started in 1994. An average of seven transplants are performed each year.

In 1999, he headed a team that made Canadian history when they performed the first double lung transplant using living donors.

Two people each donated one lobe - about half of one lung - and the lobes replaced the lungs of a young female recipient who would not have continued to live without the procedure, Unruh said. This transplant added an additional three years to her life.

While two similar transplants have since been performed, the risks and complications associated with this type of procedure are many Unruh said, adding it hasn't become a common alternative to transplants from deceased donors.

He understands the range of emotions associated with organ donation, and is immensely grateful when a family carries out their loved one's wish to donate.

"One gets overwhelmed by both the donor and the recipient situation," Unruh said.

"It just seems to me so natural to become so immersed in your grief, and yet these parents and spouses can see beyond that at a time like that. It's absolutely amazing."

Transplant Manitoba also has a pediatric kidney transplant program. Although liver and heart transplants are not currently performed in Manitoba, there are programs in the Winnipeg health region that provide pre and post-transplant care for these individuals.

- Judy Owen


For more health and wellness news, pick up the Spring 2008 edition of Aspire, now available at selected WRHA offices and facilities.

Aspire is also available for download here:

Aspire - Spring 2008

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