My avid blog readers will recall a post from June 2015, entitled “Transplant-astic””, which was about the first successful uterine transplant in Sweden (October 2014). On February 24, 2016, The Cleveland Clinic attempted to replicate Sweden’s success; a uterine organ transplant was performed by Dr. Andreas G. Tzakis and her team on 26 year old Lindsey, the organ recipient. The surgical team was initially positive about the transplant, which they hoped would be the first of ten successful uterine transplants. Unfortunately, a simple fungal infection to Lindsey’s immunosuppressed system resulted in post-surgical blood loss and subsequent transplant failure.
Shortly after Lindsey’s media debut, which was greeted with initial excitement at the prospect of success, she began experiencing tachycardia (increased heart rate), dizziness, and decreased blood pressure. She was brought back to the Cleveland Clinic where it was determined that she required emergency surgery to remove the uterus. Apparently, candidiasis, a Candida albicans infection, had developed at the attachment site of the transplanted uterus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Candida albicans is the most common of the 20+ species of candida yeasts which can infect humans. Candida yeasts typically reside on mucous membranes and skin without causing infection, however proliferation of the fungus can create organ specific symptoms. For example, overgrowth in the vagina results in a yeast infection, overgrowth in the mouth/throat results in oropharyngeal candidiasis (thrush), and overgrowth in the bloodstream is referred to as invasive candidiasis. In Lindsey’s case, the infection resulted in blood loss and the other aforementioned symptoms. Fortunately, Lindsey is in good medical condition, however she will not be an appropriate candidate for a repeat surgery in the near future.
I chose to highlight this medical milestone in today’s blog. And yes, I refer to it as a “milestone” despite the fact that others might prefer to call it a “failure.” The reason I have chosen to do so is because medical research follows the same principal as the one taught to many children learning to tie their shoelaces for the first time. Namely, “If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again.” Many successful medical advancements come on the heels of previous unsuccessful attempts. Confucius has aptly stated, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising every time we fail.” Similarly, Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, failed 1,000 times before he finally succeeded. When asked how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison responded, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” On that note, I give much credit to the Cleveland Clinic, who is already planning for future transplants with modified protocol to decrease the chance of future similar occurrences. In addition, I applaud Lindsey for boldly going where no American woman has gone before. May all her hopes and dreams regarding family planning come to fruition in a safe and satisfying manner.