HALF a century or so ago the idea of transplanting a single organ, such as a kidney, was rightly viewed as an astonishing medical miracle. Few could foresee, however, how far medicine and science would advance by the turn of the century.
Despite the advances in transplant medicine, however, something happened a few weeks ago that surely was a marvel to even the most sophisticated medical practitioner.
An infant Italian girl was given eight new organs at once at a hospital in Miami. The idea that doctors even dared to try the procedure is impressive, and what is more amazing is that the baby is doing well.
Alessia di Matteo suffered from a disorder called smooth muscle, which didn't allow her stomach, intestines, or kidneys to perform normally. In early January she and her mother, Monica di Matteo, 39, of Genoa, Italy, traveled to Miami. On Jan. 31, when the baby was just 6 months old, doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital gave her a new liver, stomach, pancreas, small intestine, large intestine, spleen, and two kidneys.
The transplant was only publicly announced recently, because the baby's doctors and the hospital wanted to make sure the child's progress would continue.
Early on, her little body did begin to reject some of the tissue, but doctors and drugs were able to get that under control. But while it now may be time for a little cautious celebration, her transplant team says little Alessia is not completely out of danger yet.
She is no longer in intensive care, though there is still a chance that her body could reject one or more of the organs. Yet with each passing day, her chances become stronger.
What is less uplifting is medical squabbling over whether this operation is one for the record books. Jackson Memorial claims this was the world's first eight-organ transplant. The Miami hospital is among the leading medical facilities in the field, and in the last decade, has performed almost 100 multi-organ transplants. However, others argue that the stomach and intestine are one organ, and say Jackson Memorial's eight-organ claim is not true.
Other than bragging rights, does any of that really matter?
Certainly Alessia's family doesn't care, and neither should anyone else. They merely want her to live, and they will be eternally grateful to the family who lost their own child but donated their baby's organs so that Alessia might live