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Afterlife: organ donation and transplantation in Belarus

Nowadays organ transplantation is a routine practice in Belarus. Meanwhile, the whole world is anticipating: will an Italian surgeon be able to transplant a man’s head? I don’t know what the Church thinks, but God was a practicing surgeon, too – remember Adam and Eve. Can a donor’s heart change the  life and the worldview of a recipient?

Oleg Vysochinsky, Republican Scientific and Practical center “Cardiology” patient (Krivoy Rog, Ukraine)
What am I waiting for? I am waiting for a new heart.

Oleg Vysochinsky is from Ukraine and he is hoping to get a new heart in Belarus, as they don’t perform heart transplantation surgeries in Ukraine.

Oleg Vysochinsky:
9 years ago, there was inflammation in my heart, they performed 5 surgeries on my heart in Ukraine.

Now his heart is so big, heavy and slow, that it pumps blood very poorly. As a result, the amount of his body fluid keeps increasing – sometimes it is 10 or even 20kg.

Oleg Vysochinsky:
I live because I believe in God. I am not the one to predetermine somebody’s lifetime.

Belarusian citizens come first in the heart transplant waiting list, and Oleg Vysochinsky can only get a new heart if it does not fit a citizen of Belarus. But he cannot wait for a long time.

These three colleagues are engaged in the donor search in Belarus. Sergey Petrovich is the head of the “Uniform registry of transplantation”. In fact, it is a huge network connecting all the healthcare facilities.

Sergey Leshchuk, the head of “Uniform registry of transplantation” of the Republican Scientific and Practical center of organ and tissue transplantation.
When there is no chance of life left, it is time to act: for every donor organ there are “golden hours” – and we cannot miss the right moment.

Sergey Leshchuk:
The deadline starts when you take the heart out. 3-6 hours for a heart, 8-12 hours for a liver, 24 hours for a kidney.

Transplantology in Belarus is a new and rapidly developing direction. The first heart and liver transplantation surgeries in Belarus were performed in 2008-2009. Statistical data read that there are 20.4 effective donors per 1 million people, in Russia this number is 2, in Ukraine 0. Spain takes the leading position with 39.5. Organ donation is deeply respected in Spain.

Alexandra Kulakova, reporter:
These days, leading specialists are trying to transplant a uterus into an infertile woman, so she could carry and give birth to a baby herself – the doctors managed to perform a successful uterus  transplantation in Sweden. The boy is 2 years old now.

The mystery to be solved is spinal cord transplantation – disabled people would be able to walk.

Donor organ search is not easy. According to the law, human bodies cannot be subjects of civil transactions. It means that they can only be donated at no cost and into a close relative. Cadaveric donation is  different – every person is a donor, if they died from a traumatic brain injury, or from different types of brain stroke, or, for example, after resuscitation in the hospital, unless they had written a refusal during lifetime.

Archpriest Sergy Lepin, chairman of the Synodal Information Department of the Belarusian Orthodox Church:
There are some complaints and questions about consent: our law does not care about that. The body is a person’s property. If they are dead, the right to dispose the body is their family’s only. Nobody has the right to take a donor’s organs out without asking.

Oleg Rummo, the head of the Republican Scientific and Practical center of organ and tissue transplantation:
Nobody can make you donate your organs if you do not want to. However, if you sign a refusal and would be in need of an organ later, the transplantation will be performed. Doctors do not need organs. But hundreds of people do need them. If they do not get organs, they die. We do not have the time and the money to ask everybody for their consent.

Alexandra Kulakova, reporter:
One person can give the hope to life to 12 people in Europe. In the case of Belarus, the calculation is different and equals seven.

According to Oleg Rummo, 9 of the 10 patients who got their transplants 8 years ago are alive and are not going to die. Moreover, they can live more than 20 years.

Oleg Rummo:
In my opinion, this is a tremendous achievement of the medical industry and society. I am deeply confident that the degree of trust of society to medicine determines the donorship level in our country. People would not agree to donate their organs if they did not trust doctors.

Alexander Mrochek, the head of Republican Scientific and Practical center “Cardiology”:
Oncologists have a 5-year prognosis: after 5 years of heart transplantation the chance to live is 90%.

A huge scar on the chest is usually a reminder of a surgery.

Yelena Kurlyanskaya, the head of Republican Scientific and Practical center “Cardiology” laboratory:
We were not able to put him in our heart transplantation program. Unfortunately, we had to say no because of his oncopathology.

Oncopathology is a contraindication to a heart transplantation surgery. Sasha had leukemia. But the doctors took the risk. Yelena Kurlyanskaya says: they had nothing to lose.

Alla Kabak, Alexander Kabak’s mother:
We could not live in the hospital, right?

Sasha is 26 now. The surgery was successful and he tries not to think about it. He has got a new life and this life is beating in his chest.

Alla Kabak:
I was praying for the person the heart came from. I understand that it was somebody’s loss. But the organ is functioning, functioning right now, and it is important.

Before the surgery Sasha got a tattoo – bueno fortuna – good luck. Now the saying is the family’s motto.

Today he is dreaming about a new job and a voyage to Spain. And about the love of his life. On the one hand, the heart in his chest is just a blood-pumping tissue. On the other – it is the heart, a symbol that life conquers death.

Afterlife: organ donation and transplantation in Belarus