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Times of India
31 July 2012
Mumbai India

It was the best gift that 41–year–old homemaker Jayshree Mehta could have wished for her birthday. She got a fresh breath of life when the family of a senior citizen who was declared braindead the same day agreed to donate his lungs.

The surgery that began at 7.30pm on July 11—retrieving the donor’s lungs and transplanting them—at Hinduja Hospital lasted 12 hours.

"It was a divine coincidence," said surgeon Jnanesh Thacker, who operated on Jayshree, who was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, in which lung tissue gets scarred, a condition in which breathing becomes difficult. "She is not only the first patient in the city to undergo a single lung transplant but also the first Indian to do so in India," he said. Lung transplant has still a long way to go, say medical experts

Mumbai: Between 1999 and 2011, five foreigners have undergone lung transplants in various hospitals in south India, the last one being an Iraqi man at Chennai’s Global Hospital in December 2011, said Dr Jnanesh Thacker, who carried out the surgery on Jayshree Mehta.

Lung–failure patients like Jayshree have been suffering for long. In May 2012, a 17–yearold patient of Hinduja Hospital’s chest specialist Dr Zarir Udwadia, who has been treating Jayshree for eight years, died waiting desperately for a donor.

"We tried every medication and every device to help Jayshree but her condition kept deteriorating," Udwadia said. Till two years ago, Jayshree led a normal life, attending to her son’s needs and even going to the market place. "But before the surgery, she was confined to home as she would get extremely breathless," her husband Parag Mehta, a businessman, said. It was only when Dr Thacker, who has performed over 100 lung transplants in the US, returned to India and joined Hinduja Hospital that people like Jayshree got hope. A week prior to July 11, Jayshree and Parag got a call from Dr Thacker about a potential donor. But when the couple came down from their Vile Parle residence to the Mahim hospital, the donor family had changed their mind.

"My wife was, however, insistent that she would not leave without undergoing the transplant. Seeing her emotional state, the doctor set a deadline of July 11 for the transplant," said Parag.

As luck would have it, at around 4pm on July 11, the Mehtas got a call. After conducting a match, Jayshree as per her wish was wheeled in for surgery on her birthday. On Monday evening, 18 days after her surgery, Jayshree was shifted from the ICU to her room and will have to stay in the hospital for another 10 days."She will need to undergo physiotherapy," Dr Thacker said.

Though the surgery is a landmark achievement and shows the city’s developing medical prowess, experts said there is still a long way to go. There is an acute lack of cadaveric (deceased) donors in the country that make lung transplants a difficult proposition. Besides, the costs are steep: Jayshree’s surgery alone cost Rs 10 lakh and the ICU and medications will work up to an equal amount. Hinduja Hospital medical director Dr Gustav Daver, who was part of the transplant team, said costs would come down drastically once the surgery becomes common. "The demand for lung transplants will only increase because of the increasing incidence of lung diseases," he said.

Dr K M Cherian, who performed the country's first lung transplant in 1999 at Madras Medical Mission, said he had performed eight transplants including three heart–and–lung transplants. "It is difficult to get a donor. If you get a donor, you have to first match blood and then the size of the lung. There are requirements, like the donor should not have been on ventilator for more than 24 hours. The donor should be young and a non–smoker." He said long–term success was still difficult though in the US, doctors report 5–year survival in half of the transplant patients.

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