Successful six organ transplants in 9 year old

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A 9 year old girl from Maine is making recovery days after surgeons transplanted six of her organs in a groundbreaking medical procedure.

The major surgery performed on young Alannah Shevenell sought to remove an aggressive cancerous growth festering since 2008 that had attacked her stomach, liver, pancreas, esophagus, small intestine and spleen. The surgery was performed in Boston, Massachusetts on Tuesday last week at Children's Hospital, one of America's most highly regarded medical facilities.

“For just under 100 days Alannah and her grandmother have been staying at Children's while she received treatment for a rare and aggressive cancer that was compromising several of her internal organs,” the hospital said. “When all other treatments had failed, Heung Bae Kim, director of Children's Pediatric Transplant Center suggested a multivisceral transplant that would remove Alannah's tumour and replace the six organs that had been damaged by its presence.”

It was 2008 when Alannah, then 5, began running a fever and losing weight while her belly swelled. Doctors discovered the tumor that year and twice attempted to remove it, as it made its way from organ to organ. But it was difficult to access what turned out to be a rare form of sarcoma, said Debi Skolas, Alannah's grandmother, and chemotherapy didn't help, either.

All the time, the growth - known as an inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor - continued to grow in her abdomen, causing pain, making it hard to eat and swelling her up with fluid. Surgery was the last resort to save her life, and Alannah spent more than a year on a waiting list for the organs, said Dr. Heung Bae Kim, the lead surgeon on the procedure at Children's Hospital Boston. The family was told there was a 50 percent chance Alannah wouldn't survive the procedure. But without it, she had no chance whatsoever.

The nine-year-old, who hails from the northeastern state of Maine, was the lucky recipient of organs from a recently deceased child of the same size and blood type, and which were able to be transplanted at the same time. Kim told the Boston Globe newspaper that they anticipate that Alannah will make a complete recovery. “She will not have real restrictions in terms of activity,” he said.

The hardest part was taking out her organs and the tumor, Kim said, calling it a difficult operation with lots of blood loss. “It's probably one of the most extensive tumor removals ever done,” the surgeon said.

It's believed to be the first-ever transplant of an esophagus and the largest number of organs transplanted at one time in New England. Dr. Allan Kirk, professor of surgery at Emory University in Atlanta and the editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Transplantation, said no other esophageal transplant has been reported in medical literature.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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