A rare transplant at TG Hospital gave a B.C. youngster a bowel, liver, pancreas and stomach. Lori MacIver of Prince George, B.C. was told to prepare for the death of her son. She said, "They were telling me to prepare and to accept, but I still wasn't on that page."
Her son Gairett, 18, is now recovering following a high-risk, four-organ transplant operation on Aug. 1 at Toronto General Hospital. He now has a new bowel, stomach, liver and pancreas, all from the same donor. According to his parents and doctors his success is nothing short of a miracle.
While bowel transplants by themselves are extremely uncommon multiple organ transplants are still rarer, not mention dangerous as well. However Gairett was left with no choice. He suffered from improperly formed blood vessels in his bowel that caused bleeding that in turn led to damage to his stomach and liver.
Dr. George Therapondos, one of Gairett's transplant physicians said, "Only a handful of these procedures have ever been performed in Canada and the U.S. Even expert surgeons need to acquire the skill for this."
Therapondos was a member of a team of more than 20 doctors, critical-care workers and nurses who were dedicated to the young man's recovery.
Lori recalls being told that because her son needed four new organs, there was a good chance doctors wouldn't find a donor on time. She said, "We really were told that even though we're talking about having a multi-organ transplant, the possibility is that Gairett will most likely die from an infection in his body before he ever gets that transplant."
When the call came, Gairett's parents had him on a plane to Toronto and on the operating table in less than 24 hours. As Bill MacIver, Gairett's father said, "There was no time to panic. Your stomach knots up and it's just `holy cow,' because you've always known it was going to happen but never believed it was going to happen."
The operation went on for 12 hours as a team of eight surgeons replaced his organs.
Therapondos said that one of the most daunting parts of the operation is to ensure that blood flows properly once the new organs are installed.
He said, "The most crucial time is when the blood vessels that supply the liver are opened up. For reasons we don't really understand, the patient can become unstable when the blood supply goes into the new liver."
However despite the potential complications, Gairett's surgery went on smoothly and his parents found him sitting up in bed, talking in a strong voice, looking healthier than he had in months. His father said, "It was amazing. It was so good to see colour in his face."
Gairett has been through scores of health problems growing up. His problems ranged from loss of sight in one eye, hearing in one ear, breaking his leg while skiing, running and playing soccer. In fact, it had to be lengthened because it was broken so many times and had eventually stopped growing.
While the cause of the poorly formed blood vessels in his bowel is still unknown, doctors assume that it could be related to an infection Gairett developed while his leg was being treated.
Therapondos said, "We'll be inspecting the organs that came out to determine what the issue was." As an organ recipient, Gairett will have to go in for regular checkups and take immune-system suppressants for the rest of his life so his body doesn't reject its new parts. Therapondos said that since he has had so many organs transplanted at once, finding the right dosage of suppressants can be difficult. This also made it difficult to put a time frame on Gairett's release from Toronto General.
But the resolute young man isn't worried. He is already planning to catch up on the aspects of teenage life he's been missing. Lori said, "He thinks we're going to buy a car and he'll drive us back to Prince George when we finish all this. When you're 18, you're invincible."