Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

UAE minister heralds organ donors as 'paragons of selflessness'

Life-saving organ transplants continue apace in UAE

Latifah Ali Shukrallah, left, donated an organ to her father, Ali Shurkrallah, to save his life. Reem Mohammed / The National
Latifah Ali Shukrallah, left, donated an organ to her father, Ali Shurkrallah, to save his life. Reem Mohammed / The National

Organ donors were heralded as paragons of the community on Tuesday as doctors ­announced record numbers of transplant operations in the UAE.

More than 35 successful ­operations were carried out at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi last year, up from five in 2017.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance, applauded the generosity of donors and congratulated the hospital’s staff.

He said providing the gift of life to others represented the height of humanity, compassion and benevolence.

“Donors of organs are ­paragons of selflessness in a world too often awash in selfish, self-serving actions,” Sheikh Nahyan said.

“While we celebrate the continuation of life made possible by the generosity of donors, we also mourn the loss of those donors who have passed from this life.”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 22, 2019. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, met today with UAE's transplant patients in Cleveland Hospital. (Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: SHIREENA Section: NA
Sheikh Nahyan pictured with transplant patients and medics at Cleveland Clinic. Reem Mohammed / The National

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi opened its doors four years ago.

Only two years later, medics performed the first kidney transplant at the hospital, and have since gone on to rapidly expand their surgery team.

By the end of last year, staff had successfully performed three heart transplants, three lung transplants, 10 liver transplants and 19 kidney transplants.

This year, surgeons hope to continue the pace of their progress, while also attempting to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation.

“We are three years into the programme and have had remarkable success,” said Dr Rakesh Suri, chief executive of the clinic.

“We wanted the best outcome for our patients and there was a lot of pressure. When a transplant programme isn't successful, it becomes very public.

“Everyone was worried about doing something that had never been done before.”

Fatma Hasan Shehab was the first patient in the UAE to receive a heart transplant, in September 2017. Reem Mohammed / The National
Fatma Hasan Shehab was the first patient in the UAE to receive a heart transplant, in September 2017. Reem Mohammed / The National

Organ transplants have been common practice around the world for decades, with the first transplant performed in Boston, US, in 1954.

But for years, cultural and religious sensitivities in the UAE have divided opinion over the procedures.

Many view the body as sacred after death, meaning organ transplants from deceased donors was frowned upon.

But that began to change in 2016, when new laws were introduced permitting such transplants for the first time.

“It's delightful to see how far the nation has come in the deliverance of renowned healthcare treatments and procedures,” said Sheikh Abdullah Al Hamed, chairman of the Department of Health.

“We’re now working to raise awareness of organ donation and how vital it is to save lives and improve the quality of health care provided.”

Hazem Abdel-Kader, 45, revealed how his life had been saved by a liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in June last year.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Tolerance, met with UAE transplant patients at Cleveland Hospital last week. Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National
Sheikh Nahyan met patients whose lived had been saved by the organs of living and dead donors. Reem Mohammed / The National

Speaking to The National, he said that in 2015 he was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a disease where the body’s immune system begins attacking its own liver cells.

“I didn’t have any health problems and then, within two months, I was told my liver had deteriorated,” said the Egyptian father of two.

“I needed a liver transplant from a deceased patient and a family whose son had died agreed to the operation.

“I tried to find out who they were and meet them but I failed. They gave me the gift of life. I wouldn’t be alive today if wasn’t for their son.

“I wish people could think of their loss as a chance to save another person’s life. I’ll be forever grateful. I feel like I’ve been born again.”

Sultan Al Muhairi, 38, an Emirati, told how he had suffered major heart failure in October last year. His transplant also saved his life.

“Every day I listen to my heart beat and think of the people who made my life possible,” he said.

“I’d like to thank my donor and their family. These procedures are truly a great step in the development of the country."

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Read more:

How stories of UAE's 'hero' donors are changing attitudes towards giving an organ

UAE prepares for organ donor registration programme this summer

UAE doctors encourage public to join organ donor registry

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Yet despite the UAE’s success in treating more patients in desperate need of transplants, medics remain all too aware of the continuing issue of a shortage of donors.

The problem is the same – albeit to varying degrees – around the world, with organ donor card schemes one way of attempting to address it.

Dr Ali Abdulkarim Al Obeidli, chairman of the UAE’s National Organ Transplant Committee, said it was important people let family members know that they wanted their organs be donated in the event of their death.

“The UAE has made significant progress in terms of supporting a growing number of transplant operations that have changed the lives of people across the UAE,” Dr Al Obeidli said.

“We are establishing a system that will support the public to exercise their right to donate and save lives.

“We are also putting in place the appropriate framework to support transplant patients before, during and after surgery.”

Updated: January 23, 2019 11:23 AM

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