U doctors perform rare bowel transplant

Joel Sawyer

University surgeons performed what they believe to be the world’s first father-to-son bowel transplant Friday when they removed a 6-foot section of small intestine from a father and transplanted it to his ailing teen-age son.
The seven-hour operation was performed by a team of surgeons led by Dr. Rainer Gruessner, an associate professor of surgery who performed Minnesota’s first successful bowel transplant from a cadaver on May 14.
The teen-age boy, whose family asked not to be identified, was severely injured in a car accident 18 months ago and had been waiting nine months for a suitable cadaver for transplantation.
Gruessner said the boy’s family resorted to a living donor only when it appeared that this was the son’s only chance for survival.
“It would’ve basically been impossible to find a suitable donor,” Gruessner said, because of the limited space inside the boy’s body.
The 5-foot-7-inch youth’s weight had dropped to about 80 pounds after months of intravenous feeding, and the boy had just recovered from liver failure. Fearing a reocurrence of the liver problem, doctors decided to act quickly.
“If we had not resorted to the living related transplant option, we could have faced a dual transplant — liver and bowel — in a patient (for) whom it was more than difficult to find a suitable donor,” Gruessner said.
The prognosis for both father and son is good. “The father should be fine,” Gruessner said. “For the son, it’s going to take another few weeks until we know whether or not there are complications we’ll have to fight.”
Gruessner said the son “was doing extremely well,” and had been transferred to a regular surgical ward. “He’s alert, he’s awake and in good spirits, and I’m hopeful that everything will work out fine.”
The son should be able to live a fairly normal life, Gruessner said, but added that he’ll have to take immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of his life.
Gruessner said he hoped the patient would be able to leave the hospital by the end of July or August.
Only two other living related bowel transplants have ever been performed, Gruessner said.