10 Most Impressive Transplants Ever Successfully Performed

As medical technology continues to develop at a strident pace, transplant procedures also continue to push the boundaries of what anyone thought was ever possible. Still, even before we reached the technological triumphs of today, there are plenty of accounts of very remarkable transplants. Sometimes there were great risks; sometimes they paid off, and sometimes they didn’t. It can be somewhat difficult to define a successful transplant. Ideally, the organs transplanted should function as long as the person receiving them lives, but this is not always the case. Even with a "successful" transplant procedure, a body’s immune system can reject the new organ. Despite these obstacles, there have still been monumental achievements in transplant procedures that are worth noting and still plenty more anticipated triumphs in the future.

  1. First Human Heart Transplant: Though this procedure has become more commonplace since its original occurrence in 1967, the first successful heart transplant has to be among the most impressive transplants ever; heart transplant procedures are still considered very complex procedures and take great amounts of skill to pull off. Having experimented for several years with animal heart transplants (mostly dogs), Dr. Christiaan Barnard became the first to successfully transplant a human heart. The operation lasted nine hours and used a team of thirty people. The patient undergoing the operation, Louis Washkansky, suffered from diabetes and incurable heart disease, making the first ever heart transplant an ethical procedure. Washkansky survived the operation with a working, beating heart, but unfortunately died eighteen days later from pneumonia as he was taking immunosuppressive drugs.
  2. First Ovary Transplant: One of the most recent achievements in transplant surgery, in 2008 one woman was the first ever to receive a whole ovary transplant to result in a successful pregnancy. Experiencing an early menopause at age 15 when her ovaries stopped producing hormones, she received a donor ovary from her identical twin sister. While this operation rests on the condition that the donor ovary being genetically identical to the receptor, it opens the possibility of removing and freezing an ovary prior to cancer treatment. The operation involved microsurgery, connecting blood vessels as small as half a millimeter in diameter. Three months after the surgery, the patient was ovulating normally again.
  3. First and Only Penis Transplant: The first ever penis transplant is a kind of funny case, not just because it has the word penis in it. After "an unfortunate traumatic accident" in 2005 that left an understandably anonymous man with a small stump for a penis, unable to urinate or have sex normally, he and his wife felt a strong need for a penis transplant procedure. After a 15-hour microsurgery, Dr. Hu Weilie at Gaungzhou General Hospital in China managed to successful attach the donor penis. Unfortunately, we will never know if the first transplanted penis had the ability to perform sex adequately, as the penis was removed only two weeks later due to "a severe psychological problem of the recipient and his wife."
  4. First Corneal Transplant: The first corneal transplant was also the first successful human tissue transplant. In 1905, Dr. Eduard Zirm of Czechoslovakia was tending to blind patient Alois Glogar around the same time a young boy was brought into the clinic due to an accident that left metal pieces in his eyes. Unable to save the boys eyes, Zirm enucleated them and saved the corneas for transplantation into Glogar’s. Despite having the necessary microscopic technology to suture the cornea, one of Golgar’s eyes regained vision after the surgery and he was able to return to work. While eye surgeons around the world had been unsuccessful in this operation for hundreds of years, Zirm’s success has been credited with advances in anesthesia and asepsis.
  5. First Gland Xenotransplantation (Interspecies Transplant): That have been documented instances of xenotransplantation since the 1600s. Most records show that they were largely unsuccessful, and today, the idea of xenotransplantation is still considered controversial in part due to the very low success rate. However, there is one peculiar case in the 1920s that appears to have had moderate success. Dr. Serge Voronoff had been experimenting with glandular transplantation for a few years. In 1920, he extracted thin slices (a few millimeters wide) of testicles from chimpanzees and baboons and implanted them inside a human patient’s scrotum; the thinness of the tissue samples allowed the foreign tissue to fuse with the human tissue eventually. The transplantation allegedly resulted in the "rejuvenation" of old men. Unfortunately, most of these experiments were disproven after scientific discoveries began to show this simply wasn’t possible. The rejuvenation that Voronoff’s patients experienced was merely a placebo effect. Regardless, this was quite an impressive undertaking for xenotransplantation at the time.
  6. First Organ Xenotransplantation (Interspecies Transplant): There are very few published cases of successful xenotransplantation. The longest a human has survived with a vital organ of another animal is at most a couple months. However, there has been a successful case of a pig’s liver being transplanted to a woman as a "bridge" to hold them over until human transplants were available. The liver was kept outside the body in a plastic bag and hooked up to her main liver arteries. Fortunately, she survived long enough to receive a human liver. It is difficult to determine how necessary the transplantation was; however, as genetic technology continues to alter the organs of animals similar to us, xenotransplantation will become a more common, necessary procedure. There simply is not a large enough supply of human organs to fill the current demand.
  7. First Full Face Transplant: Perhaps the most recent achievement in the transplantation field, in the summer of 2010, a Spanish man named Oscar became the first to receive a full face transplant. After a horrid shooting accident, his entire facial skin and muscles — including his noes and lips — needed replacement. A team of 30 experts helped in the 24-hour long operation at the hospital in Barcelona. Led by Dr. J.P. Barret, they transplanted muscles, lips, maxilla, palate, all teeth, cheekbones, and the mandible through a combination of plastic surgery and micro-neurovascular surgery techniques. Doctors expect his to regain up to 90% of his facial functions. Though he had already had 10 partial operations prior to the surgery, this was the first full face transplant performed successfully.
  8. Living Donor Liver Transplant: Living donor liver transplantation (LDLT) is remarkable for two reasons: (1) Liver transplantation is an expensive and complex surgery involving three surgeons, one anesthesiologist, and a team of supporting nurses; (2) the remarkable regenerative capacities of the human liver allows a liver to regenerate even after 55 to 70% of it is removed. The first record of successful LDLT was in 1989 when two-year-old Alyssa Smith received a portion of her mother’s liver. Since then it has become a more common, acceptable procedure given the high demand for human organs. Although living donors must accept the risk of death prior to surgery, the mortality rate of living donors in the United States is low. Any member of the family or even a volunteer can donate their liver.
  9. First Lung Transplant: Interestingly, the first successful lung transplant was a combination of a lung and heart transplant. Dr. Bruce Reitz led the surgery on Mary Gohlke in 1981 at Stanford Hospital. The transplant team at Stanford is the longest continually active team performing these procedures. During the operation, the patient is connected to a heart-lung machine, which circulates and oxygenates blood. As the donor organs warm up to body temperature, the lungs begin to inflate. Sometimes the heart fibrillates at first due to cardiac muscles not contracting synchronously. However, internal paddles can apply a small electric shock to the heart to restore proper rhythm.
  10. First Hand Transplant: There is something very elegant and comforting in the idea of a hand transplant. Hands are characteristics that set us apart from most other species, so the ability to reshape any deformity that may occur in them seems nothing short of amazing. The first hand transplant ever recorded was in Ecuador in 1964; however, the patient suffered from transplant rejection (a common problem to transplants in such an early time period). The first short-term success occurred in France in 1998. While the operation was successful, the patient had trouble with the idea of his transplanted hand and failed to follow the prescribed post-operative drug and physiotherapy; the hand was removed at his request a couple years later. Finally, in 1999, the first hand transplant to achieve prolonged success happened in Louisville, Kentucky. Hand transplants have become more common and successful, but there is still a lot to refine in the procedure so that it can achieve longer success and a lower cost of surgery and rehabilitation.


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 at 9:43 pm and is filed under Health Resources. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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