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Organ Transplant 101


Each year Texas Children’s Hospital is one of the largest pediatric transplant centers in the United States. Our depth of skill and service, both within the program and throughout the hospital, gives us the ability to succeed with even the most complex procedures. In 2010 Texas Children’s performed a triple transplant of heart, lungs and liver in one procedure; this was 1 of 3 in the U.S. We also performed the first pediatric lung-kidney transplant nationally. In 2014, Texas Children’s Heart Center performed 32 heart transplants making Texas Children’s Heart Transplant Program the most active in the nation in 2014. Below, are commonly asked questions about organ transplants. To learn more about Texas Children's Transplant Services, please visit here.

What is an organ? Our body has many organs that work together as a team to keep us alive and well. Each organ has a job, but they all work together. Here are some examples of organs and what they do:

    • Heart: pumps blood to the whole body
    • Intestine: absorbs food, water and nutrients
    • Kidney: makes urine and cleans out waste (you have 2 kidneys)
    • Liver: helps break down food, store energy and remove waste
    • Lung: when breathing, lungs bring oxygen in and take carbon dioxide out (you have 2 lungs)
    • Pancreas: helps break down food and keeps your blood sugar levels normal
What is an organ transplant? An organ transplant is needed for some people who may have an organ that is sick and not working well (recipient). A transplant is when a sick organ is replaced with a healthy organ. The healthy organ can come from a living donor or from someone who has died. An organ from a living donor is donated to a recipient by someone they may or may not know. Organs can also come from someone who has died, usually after a severe injury or illness, whose family wants to help save other people’s lives. One organ donor can save the lives of up to 8 people! What organs can be transplanted? The Heart, intestine, kidney, liver, lung and pancreas can all be transplanted. At Texas Children’s we currently transplant hearts, kidneys, livers and lungs. The transplant team works hard to match donor organs to recipients to reduce the risk of problems after transplant. Since the team needs a near perfect match for the recipient, the recipient is placed on a waiting list for their new organ. Waiting isn’t easy, but it is important to allow the team to find the perfect new organ. Why do some children need transplants? Some children have an organ that gets sick suddenly or that has always been sick. When the organ gets so sick that it can no longer do its job, doctors may send them to a special transplant doctor to learn more about a transplant and to see if an organ transplant would be right for them. Some common examples of reasons kids may need a transplant, although there are many others, include:
  • Heart: Severe heart defects or cardiomyopathy
  • Kidney: Birth defects or genetic disorders
  • Liver: Biliary atresia or genetic disorders
  • Lung: Cystic Fibrosis or Pulmonary Hypertension
Are medications required after transplant? Yes, medications are required after a transplant, usually for the rest of the recipient’s life, in order to prevent rejection. Rejection happens when the recipient’s immune system attacks the new organ. The immune system is the part of the body that helps fight off invaders like bacteria and viruses, or a new organ. These special medications lower the body’s immune system response. So, while the medicines help the recipient’s body accept the new organ, they may also make it easier for them to get sick from a cold or the flu. This is why it is very important to stay away from people who are sick and wash your hands frequently, especially in the first 6 months after transplant.
Melissa Nugent, clinical educator for transplant