HEALTH

Spanish woman donates part of her liver to save baby grandson’s life

Juan José had six months to live before the surgery, the first of its kind in Spain since 2005

Francisca Fuentes (left), her grandson Juan José and the baby's mother outside the Córdoba hospital where the surgery took place.
Francisca Fuentes (left), her grandson Juan José and the baby's mother outside the Córdoba hospital where the surgery took place.RAFA ALCAIDE / EFE

On June 24, a nine-month-old baby from Almería received a lobe from her grandmother’s liver, in what constitutes the first such case on record in Spain since 2005.

It was the last chance of survival for Juan José, who was suffering from a liver disease that meant he had no more than six months left to live.

This is the second time that a grandmother has donated an organ to her grandchild in Spain, after a similar case in Barcelona in 2005.

You can see the happiness in the child’s face, the life in him. It’s very satisfying. If I had to do it again, I would”

Francisca Fuentes, organ donor

There have also been cases of grandfathers becoming donors for their children’s offspring, according to the National Transplant Association.

According to Catalan health authorities, the 2005 transplant was “exactly the same as the one made public at a Córdoba hospital.” Back then, doctors at Vall d’Hebron hospital took a lobe from the liver of a 43-year-old woman and inserted it into her three-year-old grandchild, said the Catalan Transplant Association (OCATT).

In the most recent case, the grandmother was also young, 55, which made the operation easier. The usual procedure in these cases is to seek a child donor because the smaller organs are better suited to the recipient and more likely to last his or her entire lifetime.

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But in this case, there was no time to wait for a child donor to die, explained doctors at Reina Sofía Hospital in Córdoba, where the surgery took place. So Francisca Fuentes decided to donate 20 percent of her own liver.

“It’s the most beautiful thing I could have done: to give my grandson life so he could stop suffering, because his own life was slowly ebbing away,” she said after the operation.

“Now, joy has returned to our house. You can see the happiness in the child’s face, the life in him. It’s very satisfying. If I had to do it again, I would,” said Fuentes, who was able to go home four days after the surgery. The baby remained in hospital care for two weeks.

Living donor transplants are only feasible in two cases: kidney (the donor gives away one) and liver (the recipient receives part of the organ).

In 2014 there were 1,068 liver transplants in Spain, of which 51 involved recipients under 16 years of age and 21 were from living donors.

Spain is the world leader in organ transplants. The National Transplant Organization (ONT) reported that in 2014 Spain once again broke its own record after carrying out a total 4,360 transplants. Figures show that there was a donation rate of 36 donors per one million inhabitants last year – higher than France, where there were 26 donors per million, and Britain, where there were 21.

English version by Susana Urra.