When Nigerian Chinwe Ezeanya (41) named her son Dike, which means “mighty warrior” in her mother tongue Ibo, she had little idea the battles her son would face in his first two years.
Dike was just five months old when he was diagnosed with — Biliary Atresia, a liver defect characterised by the absence of a bile duct that drains bile from the liver to the intestine.
Ezeanya travelled from Abuja, her country’s capital where she is based, to Chennai seven months ago, from where she was referred to Sir Gangaram Hospital in central Delhi.
In Mumbai, housewife Priya Ahuja (44) was suffering from acute abdominal pain in March. She had end-stage liver disease by June.
Husband Harish (44), an investment advisor, took her first to Ambani Hospital and then Bombay Hospital. She too was referred to Delhi’s Gangaram.
“She was later diagnosed with chest tuberculosis and put on anti-TB treatment, necessary before transplant,” said Dr Sanjiv Saigal, the transplant hepatologist in charge of Priya.
The similarity in the two cases was while Dike was unable to receive a liver from his parents, Harish’s blood group was not compatible with Priya’s blood group.
In the absence of compatible donor relatives and unavailability of cadaveric donors for both of them, the team of doctors at the hospital struck upon the idea of swapping the livers from respective donors.
“There was no other option. We immediately agreed to it,” Priya and Harish told the media.
“I never lost hope. My belief in God has been strengthened,” Ezeanya said adding, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”
Dr A S Soin, the chief liver transplant surgeon, said the biggest challenge in paired donation is that both transplants must take place simultaneously. “Otherwise, the second donor may refuse to undergo surgery once his loved one has received the liver,” he said.
Donor swaps are common in kidney transplantation, which takes about two hours. Liver transplantation takes about 10-12 hours and is technically much more demanding.
Owing to past cases of misuse, the law prohibits organ donation between non-relative patients-donors. So the Gangaram doctors went ahead only after a clearance from the authorization committee.
A team of 35 experts simultaneously carried out the operations from June 25 through June 26. All four were presented to the media on Wednesday.
Dr Soin described the attempt “not just a technical achievement but (it) promises a new way for organ donor shortage”.
The Ahujas are looking forward to a hassle-free healthy life ahead. Dike and his mother are eagerly awaiting to go home, after their long and fruitful stay in India.