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Difficulties In Donor Organ Allocation Given The Limited Supply

Robert S. Brown, Jr., MD, MPH

Robert S. Brown, Jr., MD, MPH

The November 10, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine features an editorial by Robert S. Brown, Jr., MD, MPH, Director of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, titled Transplantation for Alcoholic Hepatitis — Time to Rethink the 6-Month “Rule.”

In this editorial, Dr. Brown addresses the difficult questions surrounding how to fairly allocate donor organs, which are in far shorter supply than their demand. In the case of patients with alcoholic hepatitis, current guidelines exclude such patients from the liver transplant waiting list unless they have successfully abstained from alcohol for at least six months. Yet as Dr. Brown points out, many die before this required, albeit arbitrary, window elapses. And a new study indicates that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*

Woman Donates Part Of Liver To Her Fiancé

When Megan Ellerd and Steven Ferretti met seven years ago, it was “instant love,” she says. Not long after, the young couple found out that Steven had autoimmune hepatitis — but they didn’t worry too much about it, hoping that it wouldn’t affect them until much later in life. In 2008, however, the two were happily engaged when Steven’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse. His liver was failing, and he needed a transplant.

Although Steven had severe liver disease and was experiencing painful symptoms such as ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen), he would have had to become deathly ill in order to qualify for a donor organ from the transplant waiting list. For a couple with a wedding to plan and a bright future ahead, the prospect of Steven spending many months, if not years, in progressively worsening health was just not an option. For Megan, the choice was clear. She had known from the beginning that she would donate part of her liver to him if she could — and when testing Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*

Drug Shown To Protect Obese Mice From The Diseases Of Obesity

I usually choose not to write about the “new new scientific thing” that gets picked up by the press,  because early research is usually not reproducible and good science takes a long time to validate as true.  But since we know that mice and rats that are kept on low-calorie diets live 30% longer (and healthier) than their fat cohorts, I was interested in a new research compound, SRT-1720,  that was shown to protect obese mice from diseases of obesity.  Fat mice lived 44% longer if they were given this drug.

The “designer” drug works by Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

One Organ Donor, Seven Recipients

New York Times article highlights transplant donor and recipients at New York-Presbyterian Hospital

Organ Donation Checkbox

UK NHS Organ Donation Checkbox

As organ transplantation has advanced and improved in recent decades, more and more patients’ lives are saved every year. But the most pressing problem in organ transplantation has yet to be solved: the shortage of donor organs available to the thousands of people waiting on lists for a new kidney, liver, lung, heart, or other organ. People who intend to donate may not indicate their wishes to family members before their death, or families are reluctant to make that decision in the midst of profound grief and loss. For others, donating an organ was just never something they knew much about or even considered.

When they do choose to donate a loved one’s organs, families usually remain anonymous, as do those whose lives they save. Perhaps that is why articles like the one in the New York Times on May 16, 2011, touch and inspire readers so deeply. This version of an increasingly common story captures the essential soul-searching, as well as the profound gratitude, hope, and solace, that marked the meeting of Mirtala Garcia and the people who received her husband’s organs. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*

Pregnant And Itchy? It Could Be A Dangerous Liver Problem

If a pregnant woman finds herself scratching and itching during the third trimester, these symptoms should not be ignored. Each year, approximately 0.1 to 15% of pregnant women are affected by a liver disorder called Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy or (ICP). ICP patients tend to develop symptoms of itchiness of their hands and feet that becomes progressively worse and then spreads all over their body. The itchiness usually worsens at night and if untreated can cause jaundice and several life-threatening complications to the unborn fetus. When a pregnant woman complaints of itchiness (pruritus) all over her body, the first order of business is to determine whether a rash is present. If a rash is absent, ICP should be suspected.

The liver is the largest gland in the body and in addition to filtering harmful substances such as alcohol it is also responsible for processing fats, carbohydrates and proteins. To process fat, the liver makes bile salts. In ICP, bile salts are increased which contributes to the symptoms of itchiness. Affected women will not only be plagued by pruritus but their unborn babies are at risk for stillbirth, preterm labor, fetal distress and abnormal heart rates. South American women and especially those from Chile have a greater risk of developing ICD as do women from South Asia and Sweden. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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