Susan Lim: Transplant cells, not organs

As usual, any discussion of transplantation hits close to home to me. I’ve felt to share a few reactions to parts of Dr. Lim’s talk, almost as therapy for myself, to understand the process I myself have been through and the future I have to look forward to as well. A few remarks:

Dr. Lim mentioned a statistic I’ve heard many other places. More than a dozen people die each day in the United States alone while waiting for a suitable donor organ. This brings up many feelings I have faced before. When I was on dialysis, I admit I felt guilty. I was only on dialysis for 3 months while I was waiting for everything to come together for my transplant. Yet, most of my fellow patients at the dialysis center would never get that opportunity due to age or other factors. Naturally, the questions of, “Why am I so lucky to have this opportunity? And, even, why me?” came up. And they came up again, with tears, as I thought about the wonderful gift I was given as I listened to Dr. Lim.

She goes on to talk about a difficult assignment she had and the situation in Singapore, her native country. After performing the first successful cadavaric liver transplant, she was assigned to harvest organs for transplantation from executed prisoners. Many individuals, due to their indigent circumstances, are coerced into donating organs in order to receive money to support themselves or their families. Such a risk and a gift should not be one of coercion — I am so glad I know that my donor kidney was freely given. But the discussion made me think of the moral implications of such a thing.

Then she goes on to discuss her current research — transplanting stem cells instead of entire organs. In fact, her associates are exploring deriving stem cells from adipose or fat cells, which I believe, as she does, removes many of the moral and ethical questions arising from using embryonic stem cells. Imagine it! A doctor could take my own fat cells and use them to generate a new kidney, a new retina, or whatever cells I need. Amazing!

Stem cells can be used to cure and treat diseases I deal with and some that are very dear to me deal with. When I started watching this video, I had no idea it would hit even closer to home, with the inevitability of blindness I face with my retinitis pigmentosa. I also have those dear to me that deal with autoimmune diseases. Dr. Lim herself has retinal issues and has a new-found desire and empathy towards her patients with such afflictions. I am excited for the potential this brings.

These talks always give me hope. They give me pause to think about how such medical technologies and pioneering have truly affected my life. If I was born even 20 years earlier, there are many things in my life that would have prevented me from living as long as I have, in some cases even past infancy. Of course, then, I still think. Why me? Why am I so lucky? I thank Dr. Lim and the many pioneers like her, I thank my kidney donor and the rest of those that have helped me – I thank all of those that have made it possible for me to be this lucky.

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