First Australian to receive bowel and kidney transplant gets new lease on life

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A father of two children has become the first person in Australia to have a combined small bowel and kidney transplant.

Returning from an overseas business trip over a decade ago, Melbourne man Tim Boyle suffered a stomach cramp which quickly grew into something much more sinister.

"I was rushed to hospital, under emergency," he said. "I woke up 12 days or so later to have pretty much 90 per cent of my intestine removed."

His bowel had twisted, cutting off blood supply.

“We didn’t give Tim the true statistics because medically I think you’ve got to be an optimist in this business. But we were very concerned and very anxious that this wouldn’t pan out.”

That was 12 years ago, and it led to Tim becoming completely reliant on intravenous nutrition, and constant visits to the hospital, where he would often remain for days.

Already battling intestinal failure, Tim was dealt another blow 18 months ago, when his kidneys stopped working.

His wife, Dr Robyn Laurie, said it was heartbreaking.

“It was awful watching such an intelligent, productive, young man have to go through such an ordeal and be deprived of fulfilling his potential.”

At 47, Tim's condition rapidly deteriorated.

“As each month passed, I was losing a bit of optimism about the whole thing, whether it would happen or not," he said. "And to be honest, I felt I was running out of time.”

But five weeks ago, Tim received the life-changing phone he had been waiting four years for. He was told compatible organs were available.

Over a 15-hour operation he received a new small intestine and kidney, the first such operation in Australia.

The director of Austin Hospital’s Transplant Unit, Professor Bob Jones, said it was one of the riskiest surgeries ever undertaken.

“We didn’t give Tim the true statistics because medically I think you’ve got to be an optimist in this business. But we were very concerned and very anxious that this wouldn’t pan out.”

Gastroenterologist Dr Adam Testro said finding a suitable small intestine is almost impossible, because the organ is fragile and easily damaged.

“The bowel is not as resilient as some of the other organs are, so the circumstances through which the donor came to being a donor is very important.”

“The vast majority of a person’s immune cells, actually live in the gut. So if we’re taking somebody else’s gut and transplanting it, and all their immune cells at the same time – and it’s full of bacteria – it’s very difficult to then put this organ into someone else.”

Tim's condition is so rare, Professor Jones said it affects only about 150 Australians.

He praised the team involved in Tim’s treatment.

“There’s a lot of skill and a lot of expertise and a lot of planning that’s gone into Tim’s operation.”

Tim will need close monitoring for the next year, but his recovery so far has surpassed expectations.

He is able to eat and drink on his own and has just celebrated his daughter’s 7th birthday.

His wife Robyn said it is a far cry from where he was only months ago.

"I would be sitting in the church thinking I'm going to see his coffin there soon. So, yeah, this is great, with us and the girls," she said through tears.

The family now looks forward to living a normal life and hopes to travel abroad next year.

“Whoever the donor is and their family. They literally have both saved and changed my life," Tim said. 

Source: SBS News

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