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Going Abroad for Transplants Has Risks

Traveling overseas for a transplant carries a host of problems, not the least of which are long-term complications that can kill, a new study suggests.
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 25, 2006 (Boston) -- Traveling overseas for a transplant carries a host of problems, not the least of which are long-term complications that can kill, a new study suggests.

With the number of Americans with failing kidneys waiting for new organs now topping 70,000, more and more are choosing "tourism" transplants.

Doctors who followed 10 people who flew from the U.S. to the Middle East and Asia in search of a new kidney say that the transplanted organs generally worked well. But four of the 10 developed serious infections. One died.

"The new kidneys functioned well," says researcher Muna T. Canales, MD, who specializes in kidney diseasekidney disease at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "But there was a high risk of complications that could be deadly -- and in one case, was."

Canales presented the new research here at World Transplant Congress 2006.

Dialysis Propels Many Overseas

Canales says that there's no information on how many people are going overseas in search of a new kidney, liver, lung, or other organ, "though we know it's going up." Nor are there reliable data on how these people fare.

Of the 10 people she followed, eight traveled to Pakistan for their new kidney. One went to Iran, and the other flew to China. In all but once case, they received their new lease on life from a live donor. About one in three kidney transplants performed in the U.S. involve live donors.

In addition to having failing kidneys, the transplant "tourists" suffered from a variety of ailments before the procedure - such as high blood pressurehigh blood pressure and diabetesdiabetes. But the chief complaint that led to their decision to hop a jet was that they didn't want to stay on dialysis.

Nine of the 10 had been undergoing dialysis for an average of 1.5 years, Canales says. "You have to go in and be hooked up to a machine three times a week for three or four hours. It's a big hassle."

Eight of the people were already on the waiting list for a new kidney; the others were still undergoing evaluation. Three told their Minnesota doctors they were planning to go overseas for their transplant -- one a full year before he went.

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