Doctors pioneer first reported successful organ donation from a newborn baby

Doctors at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust have pioneered the UK’s first reported successful organ donation from a newborn baby.

Doctors at the Trust with the support of the baby’s parents and the organ donation team were able to make donations of kidneys, which were transplanted into a patient with renal failure, and liver cells (hepatocytes), which were transfused into a further recipient.

The donor was a baby girl born at term after an emergency caesarean section in the neonatal unit of Hammersmith Hospital. She weighed just over 3 kg, but was very sick, and it became clear that her brain had been starved of oxygen for a period during the pregnancy.

Treatment made no difference, and repeated examinations showed that she was unable to make any spontaneous movement, did not respond to any stimuli, and had fixed and dilated pupils. The parents and clinicians involved in her care discussed the possibility of organ donation, when it became clear that she would not survive.

Supported by the organ donation team, the nursing staff, and the hospital’s psychologist, the parents gave their consent for their daughter’s kidneys and liver cells to be used for the benefit of other sick patients. Six days after she was born, and with death confirmed, these tissues were retrieved with the help of an experienced surgeon from the National Organ Retrieval Service.

Doctor Gaurav Atreja, consultant neonatologist at the Trust said: 

“It is due to the extreme generosity of the parents and wonderful professional collaboration between the neonatal team and the organ donation team that this process was successful.

“We know for many families who suffer the heart breaking loss of a baby or any family member, that the donation of organs, which could help other sick patients to lead healthy lives, can provide a huge sense of comfort.”

A significant proportion of newborns who pass away in neonatal units could be potential organ donors, but current guidelines make it very difficult for donors to be identified.

New guidelines from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health are expected shortly, and these should help to standardise an approach to organ donation among newborns.