By Princess Chukwuneke
On February 24th, 2016, Lindsey, a 26-year-old woman from Texas, became the first in the United States to receive a uterus transplant. Still in its early stages, the uterus transplant surgery is meant to assist women who hope to get pregnant but are unable to because they lack a uterus or possess a damaged one. According to the New York Times, it is estimated that 3-5% of women of childbearing age worldwide are infertile for these reasons, and about 50,000 women in the United States are thought to be potential transplant candidates.
The uterus transplant experiment at the Cleveland Clinic builds upon prior frontier work in Sweden, which demonstrated that uterus transplants could reverse infertility. Dr. Tzakis, the leading physician in the Cleveland program, spent time in Sweden learning the procedure from the first uterine transplant success team at the University of Gothenburg.
Some concerns about uterus transplants include the surgical risks: bleeding and the increased risk of infection, even cancer, given that the anti-rejection drugs applied during the procedure suppress the patient’s immune system. Another is the possibility of a non-traditional birth experience. In Lindsey’s case, her Fallopian tubes were not connected during the surgery, so she would not be able to conceive naturally. She would have to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) using the frozen zygote from the fertilization of her egg and her husband’s sperm. Further, the baby would have to be delivered via cesarean section because the transplanted uterus may be strained with vaginal delivery.
A third significant concern is the availability of donor uteri. The uterus is not a commonly donated organ, so Lindsey had to receive special permission from the deceased donor’s family in order to use the deceased’s uterus. Given the limitations of organ donations, especially one as unpopular as the uterus, how available will uterus transplants be to all women? Will it be reserved for only those women who can afford it?
Unfortunately, Lindsey’s surgery failed last Tuesday. According to the clinic’s spokeswoman, Eileen Sheil, a complication necessitated the removal of the uterus. Doctors say that transplants could fail for a number of reasons, including “rejection by the patient’s immune system, an infection or a problem with the veins and arteries connected to the organ.” In a statement, Lindsey claimed to be “doing ok” and that the doctors swiftly managed the complication, ensuring her health and safety.
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