Bowel transplants are successful

by Joel Sawyer

The two recipients of the first successful bowel transplants in Minnesota history were released Friday from University Hospital
Dr. Rainer Gruessner, the surgeon in both transplants, said Carl Knutson, 33, and David Tillery, 17, had recovered enough from their bowel transplant operations to be sent home.
Tillery, of Andover, Minn., became the recipient of the first-ever father-to-son bowel transplant June 21, when Gruessner transplanted a 6-foot section of small intestine from Tillery’s father into Tillery.
“This is the best gift anyone could ever give,” Tillery said of his father’s decision to donate part of his own intestines. “He basically gave me the gift of life.”
Tillery suffered severe intestinal injuries and a broken back in a car accident on his birthday nearly two years ago, and had been waiting for a bowel transplant since then.
“After the accident we didn’t feel he was going to live,” said John Tillery, David Tillery’s father. “Now we’re looking forward to fishing again.”
Knutson, of Jordan, Minn., became the first successful bowel transplant recipient in the state on May 14, when Gruessner transplanted the small intestines from a Florida cadaver into his body. Only about a dozen cadaver bowel transplants have been done worldwide, Gruessner said.
Knutson needed the transplant because nearly all of his small intestines had been removed during his 25-year struggle with Chron’s disease, a crippling inflammatory disease of the intestines.
Knutson said his biggest challenge now is “just getting used to eating food again.”
Tillery and Knutson both lost a significant amount of weight and were weakened by months of intravenous feeding before their operations. Tillery weighed only 73 pounds before his operation, but has gained 16 pounds since. Both patients will have to follow low-fat diets, take drugs to keep their bodies from rejecting the organs and have regular checkups to monitor their progress.
Gruessner, an associate professor of surgery, said the prospects for both patients looks good but cautioned that the long-term prognosis for both men is unknown. “This is a fairly new procedure,” he said.
He added that most bowel transplant patients could expect at least one episode of organ rejection in the first year after surgery, but said most of these episodes can be successfully treated with anti-rejection drugs.
David Tillery is only the third intestinal transplant recipient to receive an organ from a living, related donor. He said his family was initially wary of the procedure because “no one had heard of it. It was unreal when people began talking about it.”
But the family and Gruessner decided the living related donor transplant was necessary because Tillery’s health was deteriorating and a suitable cadaver could not be found.