No one is surprised by transplants these days. However, about 18 years ago, such operations seemed incredible to famous cardiologist and academician Georgy Sidorenko. On visiting Poland, he met patients with new hearts and was much surprised to see them up and about, walking vigorously down hospital corridors.
“So far, about 50 hearts have been transplanted in Belarus,” explains the Head of the Heart Surgery Laboratory at the National Cardiology Research Centre, a corresponding member of Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences, Yuri Ostrovsky. “We can compare this figure with Lithuania’s success: there, only 75 operations of the kind have been conducted since 1987.”
The figures speak for themselves, evincing the huge sums injected by Belarus into developing this modern medical branch. Citizens receive high-tech assistance previously viewed as a flight of fancy. In the past two years, a great breakthrough has been made in mastering the latest transplant technologies. Of course, while being more common, patients must still be in a critical condition to qualify for a new organ, with children being given preference.
Back in 1997, Denis Bessonov was a small boy. Today, he’s a grown man in good health. He doesn’t dwell on his past problems but, many years ago, he had a marrow transplant. Foreign doctors who were present at the operation stressed that any country offering such high-tech assistance could be viewed as well developed.
Over the past decade particularly, Belarus has become viewed as a clear leader in marrow transplantation within the post-Soviet space. Over a hundred such operations have been conducted in our country. The Director of the National Research Centre for Paediatric Oncology and Haematology, Olga Aleinikova, asserts confidently, “Russia and Ukraine need to catch up. However, Belarus lacks marrow donors, since they must be living, and we lack our own donor register. We hope that the problem may be settled once the Union State project is realised, as a Belarus-Russia common register would give us access to a greater number of potential donors.”
Further progress is in the air: simultaneous heart and kidney transplants. Mr. Ostrovsky — an authority in the field of cardio-surgery — tells us that the simultaneous transplantation of more than one organ is complicated, requiring much preparation.
Prof. Peter Neuhaus has succeeded in replacing nine organs in just a single operation but Belarusian doctors are yet to follow his example. Their major focus is ensuring proper post-operative rehabilitation. According to Mr. Ostrovsky, the next step is the simultaneous transplantation of heart and lung or heart and liver. In fact, the dual nature of these operations is easily explained: when the heart fails to work properly, other organs suffer, receiving insufficient blood and oxygen.
Foreigners heading to Belarus
This year, Belarusian doctors have already transplanted 151 organs, including 14 for foreign citizens. “To some degree, we are now hostages of our reputation. Belarusian transplantologists already boast a certain image, with many foreign patients eager to receive operations in our country,” admits Oleg Rummo, the Director of the Organ and Tissue National Transplantation Centre. “It’s profitable for any country to render medical assistance to foreign citizens but our ultimate task is to primarily help Belarusians.”
Patients from the CIS, the EU and Israel have received help in Belarus. A single transplantation costs enough to allow three Belarusians to receive similar operations. Speaking of whether it is the high professionalism of Belarusian transplantologists which attracts foreigners to Belarus, Mr. Rummo notes that some are guided by competitive pricing, since transplants in Belarus cost far less than in the European Union.
Preferable country to reside in
Specialists believe that people are becoming more accepting of the idea of donating their own organs or those of loved ones. Not long ago, a 29 year old man died in a district centre, after a grave head injury. His mother gave permission for his kidney to be transplanted to her niece; many similar examples are now being registered.
Moreover, an increasing number of Belarusian patients are ready to accept the idea of receiving a transplant, registering on the waiting list. Most need new kidneys, with their wait tending to last just over two years.
This year, Belarus plans to conduct about 300 organ transplants, almost rivalling Israel, Cuba and Argentina. At present, less operations are being seen in Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Brazil and China. However, Belarus hopes to make further progress; there is no doubt that the number should rise.
Importantly, Belarusians don’t need to pay for such operations. “In Azerbaijan, for example, fees are charged, so those families without spare finances cannot be helped and patients sadly die. It’s something to consider when choosing where to live!” Mr. Rummo notes.