KUALA LUMPUR: Despite their rigorous training, a team of Malaysian doctors specialising in organ transplants still had to think twice before accepting a pair of kidneys from an Australian woman last Thursday.
The reason is that none of them had ever harvested organs from someone who is in “cardiac death”, or what is also known as donation after cardiac death (DCD).
All along, our doctors had only taken organs as well as tissues such as corneas, heart valves, skin and bones from those who had been certified as “brain dead”.
The fortitude of doctors at the National Transplant Resource Centre headed by Datin Dr Lela Yasmin Mansor was put to the test when Shelley Elizabeth Mahoney’s family decided to withdraw her life support.
Mahoney’s family made the decision after her doctors opined the 63-year-old was beyond resuscitation, having sustained irreversible brain injuries in a boating accident on June 30.
Dr Lela said the transplant team only swung into action after the family gave their assurance they would not hold Malaysian doctors responsible if the kidney transplant failed.
“There is no guarantee that we can retrieve her kidneys as death has to occur within 60 minutes from the time the ventilator is switched off in order for the organs to be viable,” she said, adding that if death occurs after an hour, only tissue donation is viable.
When Mahoney’s heart stopped beating after nine minutes, her kidneys were removed and transplanted to two Malaysian females, one of whom had waited 20 years for a donor. Her corneas were also harvested.
According to National Nephrology Services head Datuk Dr Ghazali Ahmad, DCD could increase the pool of kidneys, but he feels that not many Malaysians are ready for organ donation in the first place.
The country is facing a severe shortage of kidney donors, with more than 18,000 patients waiting for one.
DCD has increasingly gained attention in recent years as an appropriate way of recovering organs, though Dr Lela cautioned that it should not be seen as a form of undue pressure on the next-of-kin.