More Singaporeans willing to be living organ donors: NUH surgeon

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
File photo of a living donor transplant operation. (Getty Images file photo)

SINGAPORE — More Singaporeans are willing to be living organ donors due to greater public awareness, said a senior liver transplantation surgeon and consultant from the National University Hospital (NUH).

An average 40 to 50 potential donors per case typically come forward to respond to public appeals made by patients or their families for organ donations, according to associate professor Alfred Kow.

“However, it is still rare to see a complete stranger step forward to donate a part of their liver to help someone who needs a liver transplant,” added Prof Kow, who works at NUH’s National University Centre for Organ Transplantation (NUCOT).

The NUCOT, where about 60 per cent of liver transplants in Singapore are carried out, saw its first case of “altruistic liver donor” from a living person in 2013.

“Since then, we have a total of 19 cases of non-related donors (either by marriage or by blood) donating a part of their liver for living donor liver transplantation to help patients,” said Prof Kow.

On 30 May, a 59-year-old Singaporean man received a new liver through a living donor transplant operation at the NUCOT. The 36-year-old liver donor, a compatriot who was unrelated to the man, was operated on by Prof Kow and a team. It was the first such operation at the NUCOT since November last year.

The recipient was Eddie Tan, a former project manager who received a part of the liver belonging to Lin Hanwei, 36, a financial services director from AXA Insurance.

Tan’s 24-year-old son, Leslie, had made a public appeal on Facebook eight days earlier for suitable liver donors. The Nanyang Technological University final-year student and his elder sister, as well as extended family members, did not share the same blood type as his father and were deemed incompatible.

Lin came across the post and decided to help Tan, whose liver was failing due to a worsening chronic hepatitis B infection.

Lin was found to be a suitable match – a one in three chance among potential donors. He declined to speak to Yahoo News Singapore as he is currently recuperating from the operation.

In living donor transplants, between 40 and 60 per cent of the donor's liver is removed. The liver would regenerate itself almost immediately.

The livers of both donor and recipient will regenerate almost completely within six to eight weeks and will continue to grow throughout the first year after surgery.

While Tan’s story had a happy ending, Prof Kow stressed that in other cases, some potential donors may change their mind and decide not to undergo the surgery due to personal reasons.

“Their wishes will always be respected. Our team always tries our best to help facilitate the process of finding suitable donors to save the patients,” he said.

A total of 64 living donor organ transplants were performed in Singapore last year, of which 21 were liver transplants, according to the Ministry of Health’s Live On website, an online resource for organ donations. Deceased donors accounted for 19 liver transplants.

Last year, 446 patients in Singapore were on the waiting list for organ transplants, of which the top three were for kidneys (314), corneas (59) and livers (58).

(SOURCE: Live On website)

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Gift of life: Singaporean gets new liver thanks to son's appeal and selfless stranger