For the first time in the U.K., a brain-dead baby was kept alive on a ventilator so her tiny kidneys could be donated to an adult patient.
The ventilator kept the baby’s heart beating to preserve the 4-centimetre organs before a team from St. James’ University Hospital, Leeds, carried out the ground-breaking transplant at an undisclosed hospital, reported The Sun.
Before a change in the law in April 2015, organs could only be harvested from a baby under 2 months old if it had been certified dead by the heart stopping, due to doubts over whether a baby of such a young age could be reliably diagnosed as brain dead.
The rules changed after doctors agreed tests could confirm irreversible brain death in infants, meaning parents don’t need to wait for the heart to stop.
The baby’s parents agreed to donate their baby’s kidneys in the hope that their tragic loss would give life to another person, and their case could lead to many more cases of young babies becoming donors. Around 60 percent of donors in other age groups are known as “beating heart” donors.
The baby’s organs were just 4 centimetres long but will grow to up to three-quarters the size of a normal adult’s.
Together with the liver, heart and lungs, a baby’s kidneys are fully functioning after 37 weeks in the womb.
Dr Paul Murphy, of NHS Blood and Transplant, told The Sun that “beating heart” donors are usually kept on a ventilator for up to three days after brain death while organ retrieval was arranged.
He said tests mean doctors can be “absolutely certain” the child is brain dead. “A patient who is brain dead, is dead,” he said, adding that tests allow doctors to be “absolutely certain” that a child is brain dead.
“Organ function will be maintained, while the heart continues to beat, but the term ‘alive’ or ‘dead’ refers to whole bodies. Families understand this,” he stated.
If you wish to become a donor, sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register online or call 0300 123 23 23 and tell your relatives that you want to donate.