Lifesavers - Cornwall Regional conducts first kidney transplants
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Through what has been described as the highest form of altruism, three endstage renal failure patients have had their life expectancies increased by several years.
The three - Wayne Bernard, who urinated for the first time in six years last Thursday; Shaneik Lawson, who no longer feels drained as if she runs from Kingston to St James; and a man whose sister has made the ultimate sacrifice by doing without one of her two kidneys - are the recipients of the first kidney transplant operations at Montego Bay's Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH).
Bernard's wife, Debbie-Ann, donated her kidney so he could have a new lease on life. Lawson's sister handed her an early birthday gift of a kidney.
The historic keyhole laparoscopic operations were done last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, at the government-run medical facility, by Jamaican doctors, consultant urological surgeon, Roy 'Chippy' McGregor and consultant general surgeon, Dwayne Hall, assisted by visiting surgeons, Nick Inston and Andrew Reddy from Birmingham, England.
The two foreign surgeons are part of a foundation called Transplant Link Community and have brought transplants to several countries.
Lauding the team spirit at the hospital, McGregor described the three days as "inspiring".
"I have never seen the hospital come together quite like the way it did. No one department could have done it. It really took team work - the nursing staff in theatre, the ones on the wards, the lab technicians, etc," he told The Gleaner.
Explaining the revolutionary keyhole laparoscopic removal of the kidney, McGregor said, "We used the hand-assisted laparoscopic retrieval of the donor kidney and open implantation of the donor kidney into the recipient."
McGregor spent two weeks in England recently, sharpening his skills on the technique.
This was his second time doing the operation, and Hall's first.
"It's one of those operations that you don't underestimate. It can be simple but, if anything goes wrong, the consequences can be devastating," stated Hall, adding that all precautions were taken to make the procedure a success.
According to him, owing to the fact that the persons donating the organs are in good health, there is no chance of the recipients' bodies rejecting their new kidneys.
Not new to Jamaica, kidney transplant was first done at the Kingston Public Hospital in the 1970s. Approximately 45 cases were done, but the procedures stopped about seven years ago.
Six undergo surgery
The first of six persons to undergo the operation last week, the Lawson sisters were fit enough to do an interview with The Gleaner last Saturday.
Twenty-one-year-old Amoy Lawson said her donation was an early birthday gift to her sister who has been suffering with a rare form of kidney disease for the past five years.
"It was not a difficult decision, having told her years ago that I would give her one of mine whenever the operation became available," Amoy said.
Shaneik, at 29, now has the opportunity to become a mother.
A preparatory school teacher, she said the debilitating disease stopped her from working for two years, but she went back to work and stayed on the job, even on the mornings when she felt as if she had run to Kingston and back.
"I needed my job because I wanted to be able to pay for my medication," she said.
She was on dialysis two days per week, a service that is provided free of cost by the hospital.
Elated that she will never have to take dialysis again, Shaneik said her only worry before the operation was whether her sister would be able to live a normal life after making the donation.
However, McGregor said a human can actually live with half of a kidney.
Wayne Bernard was experiencing some discomfort and could not speak with The Gleaner. However, his sister, Colleen Bernard, said having watched him suffer since 1998, she was overjoyed.
"He was given three days to live after he was diagnosed," she reminisced, adding that for more than six years he never urinated, but that changed on the day of surgery.
"We couldn't have done this without Dr Curtis Yeates, who did a wonderful job for my brother who became extremely frustrated many days."
According to Yeates, who heads the renal unit at CRH, kidney disease is disproportionately high in Jamaica.
"Every 300 to 400 people per one million will come down with kidney disease in Jamaica annually," he noted, adding that the disease was very severe because it was being pushed by hypertension and diabetes.
"Eight per cent of Jamaica's adult population has diabetes and 25 per cent is hypertensive, pushing the tsunami of kidney disease," he said.
The difference a transplant makes to the life expectancy of someone on dialysis is about 20 years, said McGregor, who added that the three patients now have their normal lives back.
He described it as a huge financial benefit to patients, and the health system.
"The cost of dialysis is significantly reduced. After the first year of having done the transplant, the hospital would have broken even, in terms of how much it spends for dialysis treatment."
The hospital said the programme would continue through the National Health Fund.