Posted on Friday 29 March 2019
Siobhan Morris (Photo by Peter Tarry, The Sunday Times)
Surgeons who pioneered the UK’s first kidney transplant using robot-assisted keyhole surgery are celebrating 50 years of life-saving transplants at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
The Trust has carried out more than 7,600 transplants over this time, including a ground-breaking HIV patient to HIV patient transplant and innovative work to overcome cases where patients’ bodies reject a new kidney.
Latest figures from NHS Blood and Transplant show that the number of life-saving kidney transplants at Guy’s and St Thomas’ increased from 244 to 269 in the year to 31 March 2018.
Evelina London Children’s Hospital, which is part of the Trust, held a special event last November to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first ever kidney transplant performed on a child at the hospital. Of the total 7,613 transplants carried out at Guy’s, 857 paediatric kidney transplants were performed.
Patients whose lives have been transformed include Siobhan Morris, 44 from Beckenham in Kent. She was one of the first patients to have a robot-assisted kidney transplant in the UK at Guy’s Hospital in 2016.
Siobhan said: “I had acute renal failure because of an extremely rare auto-immune disease that shut down my kidneys.”
She had to visit hospital three times a week for more than two years for haemodialysis, a process which helps purify the blood but requires regular visits.
“You are on the machines for three and half hours each time and afterwards feel very tired. It’s very draining.”
She had her first transplant from her mum in 2007 which lasted nine years before her body rejected it. After a short spell back on dialysis, she received a kidney donated by her brother using robot-assisted keyhole surgery.
“That was fabulous,” she said. “When I had my first transplant the pain was excruciating the next day. I could not move and could not go to the bathroom for three or four days. I was black and blue. With the robot-assisted operation, I came back from surgery on the Sunday night and was walking well the next day. It was amazing.”
The operation was led by Professor Nizam Mamode, consultant transplant surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’.
He said: “Robot-assisted transplants are becoming more common, which is revolutionising transplantation and most importantly significantly reducing pain for patients and speeding up recovery time.”
He predicts that in future robots will be able to do more by feeding back sensory information to surgeons to further improve procedures and even making some decisions themselves.
“I am a child of the 60’s. Had I had renal failure then, I would not have been talking to you today.”
Advances in transplant knowledge and skills also benefited Sophie Foale, 45 from Epsom in Surrey, who had five transplants and recently gave birth to her second child.
Sophie had renal failure at 13 and needed haemodialysis until her first transplant at Guy’s and St Thomas’s in 1986. That kidney lasted six months before it stopped working. The second kidney lasted two years. The third held up for just 10 days and after that Sophie returned to haemodialysis.
After another kidney was rejected by her body, Sophie went back onto haemodialysis. But eventually her sister was identified as a match for a kidney transplant. Sophie said: “I have an amazing family and my sister Louise was a perfect match and she is so altruistic.”
“We got to know the transplant team really well. During frightening times, we weren’t scared because we felt we were in safe hands. I don’t worry about my health anymore and can enjoy my family and family occasions because I am one of four siblings. I feel like a different person and since 2016 have been able to truly live life.”
“This 50th anniversary of organ transplants at Guy’s is very important to me. It is precisely because of advances over this time that I can enjoy my life.”
Advances in anti-rejection drugs has meant that Guy’s and St Thomas’ has been able to reduce rejection rates from about 50 per cent to around 20 per cent producing better long term transplant survival.
Geoff Koffman, consultant transplant surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’, performed Sophie’s transplant. He said: “Sophie is a wonderful success story. I am so pleased for her. After four previous transplants she was so fortunate that her younger sister was able to donate a perfectly matched kidney. This meant that the chances of rejection were virtually nil.”
“For me, the biggest achievement in recent years in transplantation has been to develop safe drugs that cut down the risk of transplant rejection.”