Singapore, 14 September 2018 – Nearly 50 years after the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) performed the nation’s first deceased donor kidney transplant in July 1970 , the Hospital has achieved yet another milestone -- a 46-year-old woman became the 1,000th person to undergo the life-transforming procedure in January 2018 at SGH.
“Every other night for five years, I had to be hooked up to a peritoneal dialysis machine for nine hours, sometimes longer. It became a challenge when my husband and I travelled overseas for work assignments as each day’s worth of dialysis solution weigh 8kg,” said Ms Lai Yoke Ling, who had presumptive chronic glomerulonephritis. This meant the tiny filters in her kidneys that remove excess fluid and waste from the bloodstream were damaged because they were inflamed. Over time, this can cause her kidneys to stop working completely.
Ms Lai’s donated kidney functioned immediately after it was transplanted, and she no longer requires dialysis.
“Crossing the 1,000 deceased donor kidney transplants mark is an important milestone for SGH as it is a strong testament of the trust that patients place in us. We are privileged to be given the opportunity to support and care for our transplant patients not just at their most vulnerable but for life. It is their trust that spurs the kidney transplant team to always want to do better,” said Dr Terence Kee, Director, Renal Transplant Programme, and Senior Consultant, Department of Renal Medicine, SGH.
“And of course, our achievement wouldn’t have been possible if not for the donors who in their deaths gave our patients the gift of life.”
One of SGH’s earliest kidney transplant patients is 61-year-old Mdm Janet Tan. At the age of 7, she was diagnosed with kidney disease but she lived normally until she needed dialysis at 23. Fortunately, a donated kidney from an overseas deceased donor gave her a fresh start in life in 1983 -- she was able to marry and start a family. It has been 35 years since her transplant and she is now a mother of two.
The early years of kidney transplant surgery in Singapore, which started in SGH, were rudimentary. Immunosuppressive drugs used then were often insufficient to prevent rejection of the donated kidney and less than 40 per cent of patients who received a deceased donor kidney lived for more than 10 years. This number has since doubled to over 80 per cent with better immunosuppressant drugs and the Hospital’s greater expertise in kidney transplant, which is comparable to transplant centres from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia.
However, end-stage kidney failure patients often wait close to 10 years for an organ from deceased donors. Another option – and in fact, the one with superior outcomes – is to receive a kidney from a living donor, but Singaporeans cite poor health post-transplant as one of the reasons that influence their decision not to be a living donor.
To create greater awareness of living donor kidney transplant, SGH has put together two guidebooks – one is for family members who are learning about kidney donation as an option for their loved ones, while the other is tailored for individuals who have decided to be a living donor.
SGH is notable for numerous firsts in kidney transplant locally. The Hospital performed the first living-related kidney transplant in 1976, the first paediatric kidney transplant in 1978, and more recently, the first dual-kidney transplant in 2009.