WESTON, FLA. – Dr. Andreas Tzakis, a Greek-trained physician, oversaw a uterus transplant on a 26-year-old woman that seemed a success before complications caused it to fail and the organ removed.
In what looked to be the first successful effort in the United States, Tzakis helped perform the delicate operation on Feb. 24 and the woman, identified as Lindsey, even appeared at a news conference with her team of surgeons.
The nine-hour procedure was done at the Cleveland Clinic here. The patient, born without a uterus, was recovering, it was reported, and in good spirits despite the loss.
Doctors and pathologists were trying to determine what went wrong. No information about the complication was provided.
It was challenging to find a matching donor, but just minutes after the woman’s name entered the waiting list for a transplant, match emerged.
“I was shocked,” Tzakis, the Director of Solid Organ Transplantation in Weston told the New York Times. “I really considered it an act of God.” Less than 24 hours later the procedure was performed and hopes soared it would work.
In a statement the hospital attributed to Lindsey, she said her doctors “acted very quickly to ensure my health and safety. Unfortunately, I did lose the uterus to complications. However, I am doing okay and appreciate all of your prayers and good thoughts.”
“I have prayed that God would allow me the opportunity to experience pregnancy, and here we are at the beginning of that journey,” the woman said at a March 7 a news conference. She and her 26-year-old husband Blake have three adopted sons.
“Uterus transplant surgery, still experimental, is meant to help women who want to become pregnant but cannot because they were born without a uterus, suffered damage to it or had to have it removed. Between 3 and 5 percent of women of childbearing age worldwide are estimated to be infertile for these reasons, and about 50,000 women in the United States are thought to be potential transplant candidates,” the Times reported. Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have similar pilot programs.
If the first transplants had succeeded the procedure could come into widespread use, said Dr. David K. Klassen, Chief Medical Officer of an organ sharing network.
HOW IT HAPPENED
“The donor, healthy and in her 30s, had several children, and had died suddenly, said Tzakis, who did not give the cause. The event that set in motion the historic attempt in Florida.
He said the call about Lindsey’s donor had come in the middle of the night, and he and a gynecologic surgeon, Dr. Tommaso Falcone, had immediately flown to another city to remove the uterus.
“As soon as they determined that the organ was healthy, they notified surgeons back in Cleveland to begin preparing Lindsey,” according to the Times, which noted that: “Medically, uterus transplants are a new frontier. Ethically, they reflect an increasing acceptance that transplants are justified not only to save lives, but also to improve the quality of life. That belief has already led to hand and face transplants for people with horrific injuries. Penis transplants may be next: Doctors at Johns Hopkins University plan to perform them for men wounded in combat.”
THE GREEK ROOTS
Tzakis, educated at the University of Athens School of Medicine, where he also earned a PhD, served his internship and residency in the United States where he had a fellowship.
He is the eldest of three children. His father was a chief engineer in the Greek Navy who could be away for long stretches of time, so they were mostly raised by their mother.
He told Dr. Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt of the University of Miami: “My mother was very close with my father, so he always knew what was happening in the house. He would call us from Japan, ‘Congratulations, for your new scholarship.’
“And he would bring a special toy for us when he came home for every occasion. Even while he was away, we never really felt like we were apart – we were a very close family. The focus of the attention of my parents was on us, children, including providing us with instant gratification for every success. So, when I succeeded in the entrance exams to Medical School – I was presented with a brand new car.
“My brother and my sister received the same present when they entered the University,” he said, adding: “My parents achieved their objectives with all three of us. My sister went to medical school; she is the director of a neonatology unit. My brother is a dentist; he is a professor in the Dental School of Athens.”
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)