A record number of life-saving kidney transplants have been performed in Northern Ireland in 2020.
There were 137 successful transplants completed, with more than 100 of the operations carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Transplant surgery was initially stopped because of the outbreak.
However almost two-thirds of NI’s kidney transplant waiting list has since been cleared, amid the current strain being put on the NHS.
Kidney transplant consultant Dr Aisling Courtney, of Belfast City Hospital, said it was an unprecedented achievement.
Northern Ireland ‘Almost unbelievable’
“It’s been a remarkable story for people here with renal failure who have availed of life-changing transplant surgery,” she said.
“We started transplanting in mid-April and we were able to transplant 101 people in Northern Ireland in 101 days.
“These were deceased donor transplants and ordinarily we would do 14 in that timeframe on average,” she continued.
“To do so many transplants in such a short space of time is almost unbelievable.
“We never used any organs of someone who died with Covid; it was just because these organs could not be used elsewhere in the UK.
“The maximum number of kidney transplants we have done in any year was in 2017 when we did 131.
“Already this year we have exceeded that number.”
While most other renal transplant centres across the UK closed down because of coronavirus, Belfast was able to remain open.
The unit, normally housed in the City Hospital, was relocated to the Royal Victoria Hospital where the burns unit was turned into a post-operative transplant ward.
The operations included a UK record-equalling five kidney transplants in one 24-hour period.
“To put this into context, a third of all kidney transplants in the UK were performed in the Royal over a six-week period,” said surgeon Tim Brown.
“It’s an immense achievement, especially because a kidney transplant had never been performed there before.
“When the kidneys became available we simply couldn’t turn them down, so we had to overcome the problem of Covid and the capacity issues which all hospitals are facing.
“We needed to be able to operate somehow and the middle of the night was the only opportunity we had.”
Among those whose lives have been transformed is Harry Mussen, who had been on dialysis for two and a half years.
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“It was a great surprise because when the lockdown came along; I had given up any hope of a new kidney,” he said.
“When I got the call it was mind blowing.”
“An hour later I was in City Hospital before being transferred to the Royal. I had no fears as everything was explained fully.
“The team at the City hospital is world class. This means the world to me, I feel so, so lucky.”
Northern Ireland ‘Legacy of Covid’
News of the record-breaking achievement comes during organ donation week.
At present, 117 kidney transplants have been performed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Belfast Trust also performed the first paediatric living donor transplant since Covid-19 in the UK or Ireland.
Tim Brown admitted it had been an extremely tiring time for staff but very rewarding.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience to be part of and it’s been inspiring to see what’s happened,” he said.
“The legacy of Covid for the renal failure population for Northern Ireland will be alive in thirty or forty years because of what has been achieved over the past few months.”
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