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First lung transplant operation raises hopes

Reported March 27, 2009

ISTANBUL - Simge Nur Etci, 13, died in a traffic accident in Konya and her family decided to donate her organs, giving life to five different people, including her lung, which is expected to save the life of Eyüp Üstün, father of two children.

Just a few hours after the organ-transplant team at Süreyya Pasa Thoracic Diseases Hospital expressed its excitement on Friday about being allowed to perform the country’s first lung transplant, a family in the central Anatolian province of Konya decided to help heal the pain of losing a daughter by donating her organs.

Simge Nur Etci, 13, died in a traffic accident in Konya and her organs were donated to five different people. Her lung is expected to save the life of Eyüp Üstün, a father of two children, and one of two patients who had been waiting for a lung transplant.

"The situation of our patient is pretty good," said Asim Kutlu, the chief of the surgery team at the hospital. "We cut all support treatments and made him walk in the room. Toward the weekend, we are expecting him to be removed from the intensive-care unit." Üstün can currently breathe without the help of a machine.

Very late to start

"Turkey is very late on starting lung transplants," Kutlu had earlier told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "If we do a transplant, if someone starts this, the rest will come."



After the surgery, Kutlu expressed happiness. "This was my dream for 20 years," he said. "I cannot sleep due to excitement. We are so proud."

The other patient waiting for a lung transplant was cheered by the operation as well. Scoliosis patient Ayhan Akansel, 24, used to work in a teflon frying-pan factory. Etci’s blood type was not a match for Akansel, but he said that Üstün’s transplant was "a great hope for me. I am only 24 years old, and I live with machines."

Lung transplants had been attempted before in Turkey, but none of the patients survived the operation. Among organ transplants, they are considered particularly difficult because the lungs have a connection to the outside world, making them more open to infections. The world’s first successful lung transplant was performed in Toronto, Canada, in 1983. One had been tried in the United States in 1963, but that patient died within 18 days.

"[Leading Turkish surgeon] Fikri Alican told me that he used to assist on lung transplants in the U.S.," Kutlu said. "It is too bad that Turkey has stayed away from performing this procedure when it was that involved in the past."

Süreyya Pasa Thoracic Diseases Hospital is the first state hospital in Turkey to receive a license G numbered 34A0101 G from the Health Ministry to perform a lung transplant. The hospital team expressed its appreciation for the Health Ministry’s contribution to revising the relevant regulations covering this type of procedure. Lung transplants are currently covered under social insurance, providing a great opportunity, for instance, for scoliosis patients whose lungs were damaged while engaging in grinding work. A lung transplant costs approximately 150,000 euros abroad, but only around 20,000 euros in Turkey.

"I was so depressed in the past that I attempted suicide," said patient Akansel. "We were trying to go abroad for a transplant. When I heard that Süreyya Pasa got the license, it was a great morale booster for me. I have been tied to this bed for two years."