10 Organs and tissues that can be transplanted

By , K24 Digital
On Thu, 29 Jun, 2023 04:00 | 4 mins read
Surgeons performing surgery. PHOTO/PD File
Surgeons performing surgery. PHOTO/PD File

Donating any part of your body is one of the most selfless gifts one can give to someone in need. But few people know which organs can be donated.

If you would like to give another person a second chance at life, here are some you can donate, some while alive and others after you pass on.

1. Uterus

One can get a uterus from a living or a diseased person. However, for uterus donation, there are some limitations: Potential living donors are only women who are between 30 and 50 years of age and have completed their childbearing and are in generally good health. 

The first successful uterus transplant was performed in Sweden in 2014. As of late 2020, roughly 100 uterus transplants had been performed in the world.

2. Cornea

The cornea is the transparent, dome-shaped surface of the eye. Light enters the eye through the cornea. It plays a large role in the eye’s ability to see clearly.

A cornea transplant, also called corneal grafting, replaces a damaged cornea restores vision, reduces pain, and improves the appearance of a damaged or diseased cornea.

Donated corneas are mostly imported into Kenya.  Cornea transplant services in Kenya are offered in hospitals such as Lions Firstsight Eye Hospital, Mediheal Hospital, and Aga Khan Hospital among others. 

However, unlike the kidney where one can get the organ from a living person, with a cornea only the deceased can donate.

3. Lung

Lungs are tasked with extracting oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide into the body. Conditions that often require a lung transplant include cystic fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, emphysema and pulmonary oedema.

The lung can be donated by either a living or deceased donor. A living donor can only donate one lung lobe. Your lungs are made up of five lobes. There are three lobes on the right lung and two on the left lung. Lung transplantation is not common not only in Kenya but also in other countries. 

4. Liver

The liver has more than 500 known functions in the human body, including producing bile that aids in digestion, breaking down harmful substances in the blood and storing vitamins, sugars and fats.

Donating a liver can save people from chronic liver infections such as hepatitis, those suffering from liver failure, liver cancer or damage from drugs or alcohol. Either a living or a deceased person can donate.

The good thing about liver donation is that the liver has the capacity to regrow meaning that one can donate just a piece of their liver and after a while, the section removed regrows and the liver size goes back to normal.

Despite this being a totally transformative operation, very few people are willing to donate their livers and that is why there are many people on the waiting list for a new liver. Currently, in Kenya, we don’t have a facility that has performed a liver transplant, but plans are underway to have a facility at Kenyatta National Hospital.

5. Heart

As the hardest-working muscle in the body, the heart beats 60-80 times every minute and is responsible for pumping blood to every area.

Conditions that make a heart transplant necessary are cardiomyopathy, heart failure, myocarditis and heart diseases. However, only the deceased can donate.

The heart is one of the organs that can be transplanted. PHOTO/PD File
The heart is one of the organs that can be transplanted. PHOTO/PD File

If you would like to become a heart donor, you need to express your intention while still alive and be registered so that once dead either after brain death (not breathing, but the heart is still beating) or circulatory death (the heart has stopped beating) the heart can be collected.

Heart donation is majorly happening in the developed world and there is no known person who has donated their heart in Kenya. There is also no hospital that has a heart bank.

6. Heart valves

The heart consists of four chambers. Blood passes through a valve as it leaves each chamber. Of the four heart valves, the aortic and pulmonary valves can be donated after death and used for transplant.

Heart valves donations are used to repair congenital heart defects in babies and to replace diseased heart valves in adults allowing the heart to function again.

When used in young patients, these donated heart valves can actually “grow” with the recipient and reduce the need for repeated surgeries. However, generally, a donor valve can be expected to last 10 to 20 years.

7. Intestines

Intestines are charged with digesting food and absorbing nutrients back into the bloodstream. If you have twisted or blocked intestines or short-gut syndrome, you could be in need of an intestine transplant. Although it is possible for a living donor to donate an intestine segment, most intestine transplants involve a whole organ from a deceased donor. 

Anyone can register a decision to become a small intestine donor after death, there is no age limit. There are also very few health conditions where organ donation is ruled out completely. 

8. Kidney

Kidneys are the most needed and most commonly transplanted organs not only in Kenya, but globally. End-stage chronic kidney disease or kidney failure, is the most common reason for needing a kidney transplant.

Kidney transplant is now performed locally at an affordable cost. There are about seven hospitals, which can perform kidney transplants.

Apart from that, the fact that one can donate a kidney and continue living his/her normal life makes kidney donation acceptable. What people don’t know is that kidneys for transplantation can also come from deceased organ donors.

9. Skin

It may not be very widely known, but like any organ, skin can be donated and transplanted too. Common reasons for a skin graft include Burns and scar contracture release, skin loss from skin infection or disease, ulcers (bed sores, venous ulcers, and diabetic ulcers), reconstructive surgery, open fractures, wounds from cancer removal, cosmetic reasons, traumatic wounds and amputation.

One can get skin from a diseased donor. Anyone above the age of 18 years can donate skin. 

10. Pancreas

People need their pancreas to help regulate insulin. The organ produces insulin, which is a hormone that helps the body use glucose (sugar) for energy and enzymes that break down fat, protein and carbohydrates during digestion.

Pancreas is the least donated organ despite the fact that a pancreas transplant can cure diabetes and eliminate the need for insulin shots. 

The risk involved makes it not a preferred transplant. If it happens, it is often conducted as a double transplant with the kidney, as many people in need of a pancreas transplant also have advanced kidney disease. 

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