Long-term transplant survival: An answer to a 24-year-old question
A quick history lesson before we tell you about Cindy Conrad:
Organ transplant was first attempted in the 1950s. At first, the only transplants performed were living donor kidney transplants between identical twins, who, being genetically identical, were automatically a perfect match.
In the 1960s and 1970s, surgeons tried other types of transplants. But steroids, like prednisone, were the only immunosuppressants available. Though these drugs suppressed the immune system, the doses needed to prevent organ rejection often caused very unpleasant and dangerous side effects. As a result, transplants were regarded as experimental.
But in 1983, cyclosporine, or Sandimmune, the first effective immunosuppressant drug with relatively few side effects hit the market.
Suddenly, organ transplant took off.
The former Barnes Hospital (now Barnes-JewishHospital) had been doing kidney transplants since 1963. In 1985, it established a heart transplant program. Later that year, it became the 16th hospital in the country to start a dedicated liver transplant program. By 1987, that program was firmly established.
The thing is, in 1987 people had no idea how long an organ transplant recipient could live. Yes, they’d come through the surgery. Yes, they’d return to a near-normal life. But how long would they eventually survive?
Some of the early identical twin transplant patients were still alive almost 20 years later. But they had living donor organs and didn’t have to take immunosuppressants.
Doctors thought it was reasonable to expect these post-Sandimmune patients would make at least five years after transplant if they had no complications. Beyond that? Who knew?
Enter Cindy Conrad.
A young mother in the last trimester of her second pregnancy, Cindy had been feeling a little “off.” That “off” feeling turned out to be a rare complication of pregnancy that caused her liver to fail. In a matter of days, she delivered her baby, fell into a coma and had an emergency liver transplant.
She recovered from the transplant, but doctors secretly wondered if she’d see her children grow up.
Did she ever! Cindy is 24 years post-transplant and going strong (although she later had a tremendous hurdle to surmount – but, that’s another story). Her hepatologist , Dr. Jeffrey Crippin, calls Cindy an example of “the triumph of the human will.”
Read a blog post by her daughter, who was just a toddler at the time of the transplant: http://intheorangehouse.blogspot.com/2011/12/liver-girl.html