Six years ago, Demi-Lee Brennan contracted a virus that wiped out her liver and needed a transplant in order to survive. She managed to get one in time … and along with it the blood type and immune system of her donor, thus eliminating the need for continuous immune-suppressive therapy. That doesn’t exactly happen very often …
The phenomenon, which has been documented in the New England Journal of Medicine, has amazed doctors, who say they have no idea how it occurred. Nine months [after her transplant], when her condition worsened and she was readmitted, doctors were shocked to find that her blood type had changed. The head of hematology, Julie Curtin, said she was stunned when she realised Demi-Lee was now O-positive, rather than O-negative. […]
Dr Curtin said Demi-Lee’s blood then began to break down, requiring more medications. “We then realised it was her own residual cells which were causing the problem and we needed to get rid of them. And that’s when we knew we had to convince the doctors that Demi’s immuno-suppressant drug regime should be stopped, rather than increased.”
But paediatric nephrologist Stephen Alexander says he wasn’t easily convinced.
… “Normally the body’s own immune system rejects any cells that are transplanted … but for some reason the cells that came from the donor’s liver seemed to survive better than Demi-Lee’s own cells. It has huge implications for the future of organ transplants.”
First, it’s wonderful news to hear that the transplant was successful and she’s healthy; that’s the most important thing. On top of that, the medical community had the opportunity to witness something they had never seen before and – more importantly – didn’t predict and can’t currently explain. In the process of discovering the mechanisms that allowed this to happen, we will gain a better understanding of human physiology and – with any luck – be able to apply it in order to make transplants safer and less prone to rejection.