Friday, September 21, 2012

Fun Friday Facts #44: Transplants Edition

Today I’m going to blog about transplants because last week I read about this woman in Texas who is getting the nation’s first double arm transplant. And I thought to myself, “Holy shitballs I didn’t even know they could do that. Arms, man. They can transplant arms.

Arms, man.

After looking into it a little bit more, I discovered that this arm-transplant procedure was first performed in Germany in July 2008, to a patient named Karl Merk. Though surgeons believed that it would take up to two years for Merk to gain use of the arms, he was already able to wave them a year later. And, I mean, arms are really complicated. They aren’t like hearts or kidneys or whatever, where you just plop them in there and you’re good. They have bones and nerves and muscles in them and shit.

So needless to say I was so fascinated by this arm transplant business that I just had to look into this whole transplants business. Here’s what I found out:

1) Like a lot of the thingsI blog about, transplants appearto be older than you would think. Of course, way back in the mists of time we have accounts of a Chinese surgeon swapping the hearts of two men, because sure, why not. Totally happened.

The Chinese have an ancient and advanced civilization.

2) In the 3rd century AD, the Roman Catholic saints Cosmas and Damien are said to have saved the life of a deacon by giving him the leg of a dead man. Considering that modern surgeons seem to have only just figured out the arm thing, well, I don’t know. Also, some accounts record this as happening in the 4th century, which might have presented problems for the dynamic duo of improbably early leg transplanting, since they would have been dead by then.

I call shenanigans.

3) It’s entirely possible, however, the Indian physician Sushruta may have, in the 2nd century BC, used skin from another part of his patient’s body to reconstruct his nose. Autograft transplants using the patient’s own tissue are safest and heal relatively quickly, and tissue transplants don’t carry the same risk of rejection that organ transplants do. So, this could have happened. Also, Sushruta is now widely acknowledged as the father of modern plastic surgery, so there’s that.

4) The first successful living organ transplant was performed in 1954. Surgeons removed a kidney from Ronald Herrick and implanted it into his twin, Richard. Because the twins were identical, there was no risk of rejection. You see, it’s always good to have a twin.

Too bad I ate mine in the womb.

5) The advent of immunosuppressive drugs in the 1950s improved the chances of transplant success. A “successful” lung transplant in 1963 kept the patient alive long enough to die of kidney failure 18 days later. The first “successful” heart transplant occurred on 3 December 1967, in Cape Town, South Africa. The patient, Louis Washkansky, also survived for only 18 days. More than one hundred patients received heart transplants between 1968 and 1969, with only one surviving for longer than two months.

Congratulations, you're still gonna die.

The invention of cyclosporine in 1970 made transplants a realistic medical alternative instead of evidence that you had apparently already donated your body to science. By 1984, two-thirds of heart transplant patients lived for at least five years following the surgery. In 1981, the first successful heart-lung transplant was performed. And now, they can transplant anything, I guess, even faces. Where do they get a face donor? I don’t wanna know.

Does this mean if I get into a car accident, they're gonna take my face?