Girl gets record 7-organ transplant

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Girl gets record 7-organ transplant

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Professor Kim Dae-yeon, right, happily looks at his six-year-old patient Cho Eun-seo, who suffered from chronic bowel obstruction for six years, while her mother Kim Young-ah helps her eat breakfast, yesterday at Asan Medical Center in southeastern Seoul. Cho will be discharged from the hospital at the end of this month. [YONHAP]

A six-year-old girl, Cho Eun-seo, has a dream of one day being able to eat a hamburger.

Although it might seem to be a small wish, for Cho, who was born with chronic intestinal ileus, commonly known as bowel obstruction, eating a hamburger would mean a lot to her.

Now, Cho’s dream is likely to come true as Seoul’s Asan Medical Center announced yesterday that its team of medical doctors, led by Kim Dae-yeon, an associate professor at the Department of Pediatric Surgery, successfully transplanted seven organs at the same time, which is unprecedented in Korea, to Cho in October of last year.

As the disease is a partial or complete blockage of the bowel that results in the failure of the food to pass through, Cho hardly had any digestive functions and did not have the ability to absorb nutrients.

According to the Seoul Asan Medical Center, it transplanted seven vital organs inside the abdomen, including the liver, pancreas, small intestine, stomach, duodenum, large intestine, and spleen, to Cho on Oct. 12, which were from a brain-dead patient who was around Cho’s age.

“I am so happy that I can now eat food without throwing up,” said Cho, as she took a bite of her breakfast yesterday.

Cho’s mother Kim Young-ah, 32, said, “Before the surgery, she could only eat one spoonful of rice, but now, she can eat two to three. It’s like a dream for me to see her eating,” and added, “She has reached the age to enter an elementary school this year, but we’ll practice eating more and more for the meantime and try to enter school next year.”

The surgery went on for nine hours. According to the hospital, six of the organs were not transplanted one by one but all together. Only the liver, which is more complicated to transplant, was done separately.

Before Cho was four years old, she had to undergo surgery to restore her twisted stomach back into its original state. Her intestines didn’t function properly, and she could only rely on injections for nutrients. Such injections damaged her blood vessels as well as her liver.

“Most of [Cho’s] digestive system wasn’t functioning, and she even had liver damage,” said Professor Kim Dae-yeon. “I believed the organ transplant of all seven organs was the only method to cure her.”

A healthy person’s intestines help to digest food and absorb nutrients. However, patients who suffer from chronic bowel obstruction hardly have any intestinal movements, which results in vomiting upon eating.

Such patients can only absorb about 30 percent of the calories necessary from food, while the remaining 70 percent is supplemented by injections. Relying on injections for calories and nutrients is currently the only existing treatment for patients with chronic bowel obstruction, while organ transplant is the only method for a complete recovery.

Injecting nutritional supplements, however, can also cause various complications, such as liver damage, infections and intestinal inflammation. Moreover, when such injections continue for a long time, they damage the patients’ blood vessels, making it harder to give injections, explained medical experts, who added that is how patients eventually die of the disease.

According to medical experts, there are less than 10 people who are suffering from chronic bowel obstruction in Korea, and they have about an 87 percent one-year survival rate and 70 percent four-year survival rate.

Last year, Cho was told that she can receive organ transplants from a patient of a similar age and underwent the surgery. According to the hospital, Kim Ki-hun, professor at the Hepatobiliary Surgery and Liver Transplantation Department at Asan Medical Center, which took part in conducting the surgery on Cho, personally removed the seven organs from the brain-dead patient and transplanted them to Cho, according to the hospital.

Kim Dae-yeon, the lead professor of the medical team, said, “Although there are not many patients in Korea who suffer from this disease, this successful result is very important and meaningful as it opened the possibility of full recovery for the patient who suffers from a rare disease with a low survival rate,” and added, “This [successful result] was all possible thanks to the cooperation and the capability of doctors at the organ transplant department, and we are happy to be part of granting the girl’s wish.”

Cho is slowly recovering, and lead professor Kim said she will be able to be discharged from the hospital at the end of this month.

“We believe we have passed the crisis with [Cho],” said lead professor Kim. “There’s more than a 90 percent likelihood that Eun-seo will be able to recover fully.”


By Park Tae-gyen, Yim Seung-hye [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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