Transplantation transformed: A major discipline in medicine and a healthcare success story | Professor John Forsythe

John Forsythe

Today marks the first day of Organ Donation Week and here John Forsythe, associate medical director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, shares his experience of lifesaving organ transplants over the last forty years and the importance of the upcoming law change in England to an ‘opt out’ system in the history of organ donation and transplantation.

Even now I can remember, vividly, the first time I saw a transplant operation. Watching the organ go from a dull lifeless grey colour to a vibrant life-giving pink, as the recipients of blood flowed in.

It was around 1980 and I was still a medical student – I remember the transplant unit being very excited that this patient was one of the first to benefit from receiving a new wonder drug called cyclosporine.

Almost forty years on, transplantation has come a long way and this procedure has helped hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. The results of a transplant operation are excellent even at ten and twenty years after the procedure - there are few major operations carried out in a big hospital would have a better overall result.

And all thanks to the precious gift of organ donation.

Looking back over the forty years that I mentioned, the improvement in the first period of that time came from newer drugs. These have reduced the probability of rejection which used to be the patient's main concern after the procedure. We mustn't underestimate the major achievement that this represents for transplant patients.

In the last ten years the major advances have been because of an increase in the number of donors who have been prepared to gift organs for transplantation, either as a live donor (mainly kidney transplants) or after their death.

Changes in the way in which the organ donation service is managed in the United Kingdom have produced almost 100 per cent increase in donors – a superb achievement for the healthcare teams involved and a demonstration of an impressive concern for others from donors and their families, even at a difficult time in their lives.

In 2019, it is clear that the wider communities across the United Kingdom have confirmed their commitment to the concept of organ donation and transplantation with widespread public support for new legislation meaning a move to an ‘opt out’ system. Over the next year there will be widespread publicity prior to the new law, which is often referred to as ‘Max and Keira’s Law’, coming into force in Spring 2020 – encouraging everyone to register their decision on organ donation and also to tell their family.

If the trend in Wales following their new ‘opt out’ donation law is followed in other UK countries, there will be more people benefiting from the miracle of transplantation in years to come.

Over the last decades I have seen transplantation transformed – I am certain that, with the new legislation and the promise of new technology, that medical students of today will still be excited and encouraged to join a dedicated donation and transplant team.

Transplantation will continue to thrive as a major discipline in medicine helping more patients across the world.

Professor John Forsythe is the associate medical director of organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant. Follow him on Twitter @Johnforsythe100 and NHS Organ Donation @NHSOrganDonor

Find out more about Organ Donation Week and how to get involved by visiting NHS Blood and Transplant web pages about the week.  

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