The cardiothoracic surgery team at Dublin’s Mater Hospital have been on call since September in the event of a suitable donor being found. There are 25 people in Ireland who desperately need a lung transplant.
Six have been chosen to have the procedure conducted in Ireland, while a further 18 will have to go to Britain for the chance of surgery, if and when suitable donor organs become available. The process of establishing a transplant unit in Ireland began in 1998 when a contract was awarded to Freeman Hospital in Newcastle to deal with Irish patients.
The Freeman contract was extended when the opening of the Irish unit was delayed.
It had been hoped that the first lung transplant would take place at the Mater last summer and a further three transplants would take place by the end of the year.
Once the third theatre is built at the Mater all lung transplants - about 15 a year, will take place here.
Both pre and post-operative care is carried out at the Mater at present. To date, €10.4 million has been spent on the project, but a further €8.7m is needed to build and equip the theatre.
However, the hospital is still awaiting word from the Department of Health and Children as to the provision of the balance of the money needed to complete the programme. Surgeon Freddie Wood, who heads the transplant team, said the delay in carrying out the first lung transplant was because they had not been offered a suitable donor.
“There have only been two lung donors since September,” he said.
There are three main causes for lung transplantation: cystic fibrosis, smoking-related emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis. The Cystic Fibrosis Association says Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world.
There is no cure for cystic fibrosis so patients rely heavily on the health system to manage its often severely debilitating symptoms. Many patients need two hours of physiotherapy each day.