February 25, 2016 9:12 pm
Updated: February 26, 2016 2:20 pm

Edmonton surgeons perform record number of lung and liver transplants

Tim Penstone, 63, is a double-lung recipient who had transplant surgery the the University of Alberta Hospital less than a year ago.

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EDMONTON – Alberta Health Services says Edmonton surgeons performed more lung and liver transplants in the city than ever before last year.

At a new conference Thursday, AHS said Edmonton doctors also set a new record for most liver transplants from living donors than ever before.

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The numbers show 61 lung transplants were performed last year, smashing the 2014 record of 44. Doctors also performed a record 83 liver transplants, surpassing the record of 80 which was set in 2007. Local surgeons also transplanted 22 livers from living donors which broke the previous record of 16 set in 2013.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Dr. Norman Kneteman, a liver transplant surgeon and Zone Clinical Section Chief for Transplant Services with AHS, said he thinks there are a few reasons 2015 was a record breaker.

“It’s a combination of things that has happened; we’ve got the dedicated teams who work on supporting organ donation both within our hospitals as well as within Alberta Health Services and in the last year, in our lung transplant program, there have been a couple of changes. One of them has been the ability to basically improve some of the lungs that may not have been suitable for transplant,” he said. “We did more livers than ever before and a big part of that is our living donor program has been able to expand because of support from family members and friends who have donated a piece of their liver to another.”

READ MORE: B.C. man comes to Alberta after changes allow anonymous, live liver donations

In total, 144 lung and liver transplants were performed in 2015 by seven organ transplant surgeons and their surgical teams.

“I congratulate the transplant services team at the University of Alberta Hospital for this significant achievement,” Sarah Hoffman, deputy premier and minister of health, said in a release. “Organ and tissue transplant procedures are only possible through the generosity of the donors and their families. More than 200,000 Albertans have registered their intent to donate; and I encourage more people to add their names to the donor registry as there are more than 700 people in Alberta waiting for an organ or tissue transplant.”

All lung and liver organ transplants in the province are performed at the University of Alberta Hospital, the Stollery Children’s Hospital and the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute.

In Canada, only Toronto has a larger liver and lung transplant program than Edmonton.

Tim Penstone, 63, is a double-lung recipient who had transplant surgery the the University of Alberta Hospital less than a year ago.

“I had a disease called IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) – they don’t know the cause of it, they also don’t know how it progresses. I was diagnosed in 2005 and for the next three or four years, I was basically static as far as change. In 2014 I had two drops in my lung capacity and in August of 2014, they said, ‘OK, we’re concerned enough that we’re going to put you on the transplant list.”

Penstone’s very grateful to have received the transplant and says many people don’t always understand why so many donors are needed.

“The challenge is that roughly only 20 per cent of the lungs that they harvest are transplantable,” he said. “So even though we get lots of donations, it’s only 20 per cent so it’s very difficult.”

Despite the record-breaking number of transplants, Alberta actually has one of the lowest organ and tissue donor rates in Canada.

In 2014, the province launched an online organ and tissue donation registry. Since the online registry was put in place, over 200,000 Albertans have pledged to donate their organs or tissues.

“That’s only five per cent of the population- we have a long ways to go,” Kneteman said.

Previously, Albertans could only indicate they wanted to donate organs or tissues when they renewed their driver’s licence or other identification.

Anyone who wants to register their intent to donate their organs and/or tissues can do so by clicking here.

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