Transplants Now Possible With Non-Matching Blood Types

Transplants Now Possible With Non-Matching Blood Types

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Ed Yeates ReportingFor the first time in Utah a patient got a kidney transplant from a donor with an incompatible blood type. Transplants fail when blood types don't match, but it worked this time because of a new technique pioneered by Johns Hopkins University.

Thirty-year old Piper Higley Arnold is recovering nicely at LDS Hospital after an unusual kidney transplant. In fact, for Utah, this was a first. Forty-year old Leslie Higley wanted to donate one of her kidneys to her sister Piper ten years ago, but their blood types didn't match. Though their tissue types were the same, Piper had type "O" blood, her sister - type "A." That's a recipe for failure -- that is until now.

Leslie Higley, Transplant Donor: "For ten years, we've just been hoping and praying everyday that she would get a kidney and finally with technology it happened."

That technology is rather remarkable. The transplant surgery itself is the same as any other, but this time, before the transplant, physicians at LDS Hospital performed what is called plasmapheresis on Piper. It's a procedure that flushes out antibodies that otherwise would reject her sister's blood type. They also removed Piper's spleen.

Willem Van Der Werf, Transplant Program, LDS Hospital: "The spleen harbors cells that make antibodies. So by removing the spleen, we lower the level of antibodies by about 50 percent."

Piper Higley Arnold, Transplant Recipient: "I was a little nervous, but after being on dialysis for ten years, I was ready to take any, any chance of having a normal, healthy life."

Without a spleen, Piper will now have to be more careful of infections, more so than other transplant patients. Beyond that she should have a normal recovery. The procedure used on Piper will also work for people who don't have compatible tissue matches. These are certainly transplant options patients have never had before.

Willem Van Der Werf: "Other patients who might not have been transplanted in the past who now with some of these newer protocols may have the opportunity to be transplanted."

It's currently estimated that one third of all living kidney donors are rejected because their blood types don't match with the recipients.

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