Burjeel Medical City Carries Out Its First Deceased Donor Liver Transplant

Abu Dhabi: For Fatima Ali, this is a new life. After struggling with liver cirrhosis and liver cancer for two years, the 66-year-old has returned to normal life following a life-saving liver transplantation at Burjeel Medical City (BMC), Abu Dhabi. Fatima is the first-ever patient to undergo liver transplantation at BMC, the flagship facility of Burjeel Holdings. The hospital already has a successful kidney transplant program.

Fatima, an educational advisor, has been living in the UAE for several years. A mother of three, she has been a role model to her children who are specialist physicians in Abu Dhabi.

Fatima’s life took a downward spiral when she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a condition where the body’s immune system attacks liver cells. In 2022, she was diagnosed with decompensated liver cirrhosis. A year later, she developed hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer). She consulted doctors at BMC who recommended a liver transplant, considering the severity of her condition. Since 2023, Fatima has been under the care of Dr. Rehan Saif, Director of the Burjeel Abdominal Multi-Organ Transplant Program, BMC.

“The idea of undergoing a liver transplantation was mentally and emotionally draining,” said Fatima, who was worried about different aspects of the surgery such as the risks involved, consequences, success rate, recovery time, life expectancy, and the quality of life afterwards. 

“Gathering information online and from other unofficial sources scared me. When I met Dr. Rehan, he put me at ease by explaining the need for a liver transplant to cure my liver cancer and the underlying liver cirrhosis. He erased my fear by explaining the process and how it’s become a common life-saving procedure for people like me,” said Fatima, who unfortunately did not have a suitable living donor in the family and had to wait for a suitable deceased donor organ.

Once BMC got empanelled into the Deceased Donor Liver Transplant Program, Fatima underwent pre-liver transplant evaluation. She was put on the waitlist of the Emirates Organ Transplant Centre and Ministry of Health and Prevention for six months. Although she was called for a transplant three times previously, the donor liver was not a suitable match due to various clinical reasons. 

“All cirrhotic livers are prone to primary liver cancer. Fatima developed liver cancer a year ago. However, we could not perform surgical resection as she had advanced decompensated cirrhosis with portal hypertension. She wouldn’t tolerate a liver resection. We used a TACE (Trans Arterial Chemo Embolization) procedure to control the cancer, while waiting for the transplant. Later, another part of her liver developed a second Hepatocellular Carcinoma. That was also controlled using another TACE procedure to prevent the cancer from spreading beyond the liver and to ensure that her disease would remain within the criteria to be eligible for a liver transplant,” said Dr. Rehan.

Life-Changing Moment

Everything changed when she received a call from the Burjeel Transplant Office in March. A 23-year-old man with traumatic brain injury had sustained severe brain stem dysfunction and was declared brain dead by neurological criteria. The Emirates Organ Donation and Transplant Centre approached the family of the deceased. Out of generosity and nobility, the family consented to organ donation.

“I was overwhelmed when I got the call,” said Fatima, who thanked the selfless decision of the donor’s family. 

Following the confirmation from the Organ Transplant Team, the doctors at BMC went ahead with organ retrieval first and then the liver transplant surgery. The transplant was led by Dr. Rehan Saif, accompanied by Dr. Johns Mathew, Specialist GI Surgery; Dr. Ramamurthy Baskaran, Consultant Anaesthesiology & Transplant Anaesthesia; Dr. Mohamed Mourad Hashim, Consultant & Head Anaesthesiology; and Dr. Ahmed Omran, Consultant – Anaesthesia; Dr. Nicholas Wyon Consultant Critical Care Medicine, and Dr. Ahmed Mansy, Specialist – ICU. A multi-disciplinary effort by the medical team, including the nursing and rehabilitation teams, as well as the administrative team, Transplant Manager, Transplant Coordinator and a social worker, led to the success of the procedure.

According to Dr. Rehan, the surgery was extremely challenging. “The surgery was complex mainly due to the degree of portal hypertension, which makes the removal of the diseased liver difficult. It posed a high risk of severe bleeding. However, we achieved it safely with minimal blood loss (500ml). Only one unit of blood transfusion was required during the procedure,” said Dr. Rehan. 

According to the doctor, Fatima is recovering well with a healthy functioning liver graft.

“From hospitalization till recovery period, the entire team provided exceptional service. I’ve been receiving the appropriate treatment for pain and rehabilitation, making good progress in respect of my diet tolerance,” said Fatima.

The successful liver transplant at BMC highlights the UAE’s capabilities in providing advanced healthcare to everyone in need.  

“In light of the introduction of our new program at BMC, our transplant team brings extensive experience to the forefront. We are enthusiastic about broadening our scope of care to encompass both adult and pediatric liver diseases (both deceased and living donor liver transplantation), thereby offering this invaluable service to the UAE and beyond,” stated Dr. Rehan.

For more information on how to register as an organ donor,

visit: Hayat Organ Donation Program | Ministry of Health and Prevention… (mohap.gov.ae)