Healthcare News & Insights

Historic transplant operation saves child’s life

An historic six-organ transplant saved the life of a mortally ill nine-year-old girl.  The record-setting procedure took place at Children’s Hospital of Boston (CHB). It’s not only one of the largest multi-organ transplants ever done, it’s the first esophageal transplant in the world.

Nine-year-old Alannah Shevenell of Hollis, Maine, was first diagnosed with a rare and aggressive myofibroblastic cancer when she was four. Previous operations had repeatedly tried to remove the tendril-like cancer from choking her organs — but the cancer kept returning.

By July 2010, Alannah could no longer swallow and the oncology team had no further treatment options to offer. Doctors were helping her family prepare a plan for her end-of-life care — until a CHB doctor suggested trying a multi-organ transplant. (Alannah qualified for the organ donation list because her cancer was classified as “benign” since it hadn’t spread to other parts of her body — it had only grown larger.)

The family agreed to the procedure — and the long wait for a donor began. Not only would the donation need to come from the already relatively scarce number of child donors, but it would need to be a single intact and healthy set of a number of organs.

Finally, on October 27 of last year, Alannah and her family got the go-ahead. The next day, doctors spent 14 hours removing most of Alannah’s internal organs and cutting away any remaining tendrils of the tumour from her aorta and other surrounding tissue. The last 4 hours or so of the surgery consisted of transplanting the new organ set and connecting it to Alannah’s blood supply.

When all was said and done, she had received a new esophagus, liver, stomach, spleen, pancreas and small intestine.

Three months later, doctors are pleased with her progress and expect her to live a relatively normal life. Her only anticipated long-term effects of the procedure are having to take anti-rejection medications and some basic precautions to keep her suppressed immune system from falling prey to infection.

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