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Illinois surgeons re-transplant kidney into second patient in unusual operation

April 26, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Cera Fearing, Ray Fearing and Dr. Erwin Gomez were the participants in the pioneering kidney retransplant.
Cera Fearing, Ray Fearing and Dr. Erwin Gomez were the participants in the… (Courtesy of Northwestern…)

In what is claimed to be the first operation of its kind, surgeons at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago have removed a transplanted kidney from its original recipient and implanted it in a second recipient. The kidney was failing in the first patient, but began fluorishing in the second and is now healthy.

The first recipient of the kidney was Ray Fearing, a 27-year-old Arlington Heights, Ill., resident who suffers from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), in which scar tissue develops on the kidney and prevents the organ from filtering waste from the bloodstream. In June, a team headed by Dr. Lorenzo Fallon of Northwestern implanted a kidney donated by Fearing's 24-year-old sister, Cera. But, as is the case in about half of transplants to patients with FSGS, the new kidney began failing almost immediately following a recurrence of the disease. The surgical team knew the kidney would have to be removed, but reasoned that it might be saved if the procedure was done quickly.

The team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that, after an extensive discussion of the ethics of the situation and after consultation with Ray and Cera Fearing, they decided to re-transplant the organ into 67-year-old Dr. Erwin Gomez of Valparaiso, Ind. Gomez, the father of five, was a good immune match for the kidney, but he was also a surgeon and thus familiar with the complexities involved in the procedure. On July 1, 14 days after the organ was originally implanted in Ray Fearing, it was re-implanted in Gomez. The operation was a success and Gomez is now off dialysis and apparently healthy. Fearing is back on dialysis and says he, too, is doing fine.

"This is a groundbreaking medical moment because it suggests that it is possible to reverse the damage done to a kidney as a result of FSGS after it is transplanted into a body with a healthy circulatory system," said Dr. Joseph Leventhal of Northwestern. "Not only did we save a viable organ from being discarded, we also made significant strides in better understanding the cause of FSGS, which has been relativley unknown, so we can better treat the disease in the future. This proves that when an organ fails in one body, it may thrive in another."

Twitter: @LATMaugh

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