Hélène Campbell, in her third week with new lungs, is responding well to treatment and is expected to pull through!
**UPDATE** Helene could be out of the ICU in just a few days! More here!
The infection and rejection reported last week — both common post-transplant conditions — are unlikely to become major issues, according to Dr. Gary Levy, head of Toronto General Hospital’s multi-organ transplant department, where the April 6 life-saving procedure was undertaken.
“We have every reason to believe that Hélène will recover and she’s going to do very well,” Levy says. “She’s young, she’s strong, she was very fit going into transplant.”
The 21-year-old Ottawa woman has garnered intense media interest and thousands of fans around the world, with such high-profile supporters as Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres. Her 14,000 Twitter followers keep her @alungstory page steadily humming with tweets of support and pleas to register as organ and tissue donors on Ontario’s registry beadonor.ca.
On Tuesday, transplant surgeons Dr. Tom Waddell and Dr. Shaf Keshavjee; Ronnie Gavsie, CEO of Trillium Gift of Life Network; and Hélène’s parents, Alan and Manon Campbell, will hold a press conference to discuss the young woman’s condition.
Levy explained in a telephone interview that transplant patients often get infections after the first two days following their surgery. Bacterial lung infections are common among people who die in intensive-care units and, most typically, that is where transplant donors come from. Active infections will rule out a donor but underlying infections can be present, though undetectable.
Patients on ventilators, as Campbell has been, are also subject to bacterial infections through the equipment used to suction secretions from deep in the lungs, Levy says.
“Later on you can pick up viral infections from being immunosuppressed,” Levy says.
One common viral infection, called cytomegalovirus, is carried by half the population, usually lying dormant until an immune system is suppressed — such as in the case of transplant patients who receive immunosuppressant medication to prevent rejection of their new organs.
Fungal infections are also common, Levy adds. “There is fungus all over the place; you have it on your skin,” he says. “When you do operations there’s always a risk.
“In Hélène’s case, she was being treated for a low-lying infection and she is responding well,” he says. “It’s not surprising that she’s having these problems. It would be unusual if she didn’t.”
The next hurdle is early-onset rejection, which occurs in 30 per cent of transplant recipients. “We call it acute cellular rejection,” Levy says. “The cells go in, they see the graft is foreign and they attack it. In her case it was picked up very early and all you have to do is make a minor adjustment in immunosuppression.
“It’s not considered a major problem today,” he adds.
The biggest challenge for lung-transplant recipients is long-term rejection, called bronchiolitis obliterans. The transplant program at TGH, one of the world’s largest, performs repeat lung transplants in up to 15 per cent of their annual procedures as a result, Levy says.
“The mean survival is about 50 per cent in five years, but there are many (recipients) who are 10 to 15 years out,” he says.
Many more patients would do well if there were an adequate supply of organs and patients awaiting transplant didn’t have to wait so long, he notes.
“Helene is a wonderful, young and energetic person,” Levy says. “If transplant was ever made for anyone, it’s made for Helene. We want her to have a wonderful long life. Everyone will work tirelessly to make that happen.”
This week is National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week.
Way to go, Helene!! We wish you an amazing recovery!!