Ontario seeks to attracts fresh organ donors
By Nouman Khalil
MISSISSAUGA – No one can better understand the importance and value of organ donations than Mississauga’s Baig family.
Fatima Baig, 21, the youngest member of the Erindale family, was waiting for a liver donation for more than three years and eight months.
Her long wait finally comes to an end as she found a perfect match – a deceased donor of complete liver.
Fatima underwent an eight-hour long liver re-transplantation recently and is currently recovering from the surgery at Toronto General Hospital’s Acute Care Unit.
Baig’s story is one of many examples showing the importance of organ donations in saving lives within our communities.
“I couldn’t believe, it’s a miracle,” said Afia Baig, Fatima’s mother. “We’re grateful to whoever has donated the liver. I’m just thinking what could have happened … my daughter was at the (final) stage of liver failure.
“It’s a big thing. Who can think of donating an organ of a dying family member? We learnt the importance of organ donation,” said Baig.
Liver disease followed Fatima throughout her life as she was born with it in Pakistan in 1993.
When she was mere 11 years old in 2004, she had to undergo her first liver transplant at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital and received a piece of liver from a living donor – no other than her own mom.
But, unfortunately, the liver failed within six years and Fatima was relisted for a second transplant in 2010.
“We feel that a second liver transplant using a live donor would be extraordinary difficult,” said Dr. Les Lilly, medical director of Liver Transplantation at the University of Health Network. “For all technical reasons that the liver needs to work right away and partial liver takes time for some regrowth, we felt in general that re-transplantation can only be done with a full liver.”
Lilly has more 20 years of experience looking after some 2,000 liver transplant patients at the Toronto General Hospital. Fatima has been his patient since she turned 18.
Based on the life-threatening nature of the disease, Fatima has been on the organ recipients’ waiting list since 2010, but her health further deteriorated in the past few weeks and time was running out.
“It does not always happen because of the shortage of organs but Fatima was fortunate to receive a second liver,” said Lilly. “The surgery went better than expected, but we are cautiously optimistic because prior to surgery she was very week due to illness.”
Commenting on life expectancy of a liver re-transplant patient, Lilly said so far they (at Toronto General Hospital) have performed more than 2,500 liver transplants, with just over 4 per cent, or 100, were second transplants.
“Liver re-transplant is fairly uncommon and personally I can’t recall a person who is young and have ever undergone a second liver transplant,” said Lilly.
Fatima completed her grade 10 at John Fraser Secondary School, but could not continue her education due to illness.
Lilly said once she recovers from the sickness, she will be able to do normal routine work such as going to school or playing sports with her friends.
“It’s of course a huge operation, it has blood transfusion, high doses of medication to help liver work. These medications also have side affects, but ‘age’ is in Fatima’s favour. She is quite young and young people do tend to recover more quickly,” said Lilly.
In liver transplant, finding a right size as well as blood group is necessary.
“If you have a donor that weighs 120kg, he would not likely be able to fit that liver into a 50kg recipient. Similarly, if you want to fit a 50kg donor’s liver into 120kg recipient, the liver may not be large enough to do the job,” said Lilly.
In 95 per cent of liver transplant cases, he said, the first liver carries the patients through the rest of their lives, but in some cases, the first graft fails for a list of reasons which vary from patient to patient.
Shortage of donors
In Ontario, currently more than 1,500 people are waiting for life-saving transplants while, out of an eligible 11.74 million population, only 2.98 million (25 per cent) are registered life-saving donors.
The shortage is particularly acute in the South Asian community because of blood group difference and variety of other reasons.
Since 2003, some 10,344 Ontarians have received a life-saving organ transplant.
Ontario’s goal is to register 275,000 new donors by March 2015 and it has already reached 22 per cent of the target with 60,868 registrants.
Lilly said anybody who is 16 and older can be a donor, but it all depends on the circumstances of the donor’s death.
“Everybody is a potential donor, but if someone dies of cancer or of overwhelming infection, doctors wouldn’t be able to use the organs. The decision is made at the time of donor’s death,” said Lilly.
To be a donor, visit www.beadonor.ca.
Ontario seeks to attracts fresh organ donors