Organ Transplantation and the development of a Deceased Organ Transplantation Network

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Trinidad and Tobago, 8th July, 2012. Dr Colin Furlonge, Principal Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health has indicated that “To do organ transplantation, we need a steady supply of donated organs. But at the moment, organ supply is always less than demand. Currently we are functioning with only living donors, who can only help 1 person at a time. What we need also are deceased donors. Every deceased donor can possibly help several persons at once - for instance, a living donor can only give 1 kidney. Whereas, 1 deceased donor can give 2 kidneys to help 2 persons. Giving the gift of life after death is indeed a remarkable act of kindness.” .


Dr Furlonge was delivering the feature address on behalf of the Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan at a media conference hosted by REPSOL on organ transplantation and the development of a deceased organ transplantation network in Trinidad and Tobago.  The media conference was held on Friday 6th July 2012 at the Hyatt Regency.  Dr Furlonge noted “The next step in the development of a comprehensive National Transplant Program is to develop a robust deceased donor program to compliment living organ donation.  The success of such a program requires the support of the entire population, as citizens have to be prepared to become organ donors”.

It is in light of this, in October 2011, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago partnered with the Donation and Transplantation Institute (DTI), a non-profit organization founded in Barcelona, to initiate the project ‘Organ Donation and Transplant Network for Trinidad and Tobago’.  REPSOL has sponsored the training of doctors from within the public health sector at DTI. 


The objectives of this project are:

v  Improve and develop the organ donation and transplantation process, thereby increasing the number of organ donations that occur, particularly for deceased donation;

v  Improve on the professional skills of physicians and transplant coordinators in the public health system and the National Organ Transplant Unit via training and education

v  Familiarize health professionals about donation and transplantation so that they contribute to the development of the transplant network

To date three (3) local doctors have already participated in transplant coordination training and internship with DTI in Spain, and there are ongoing visits from expert transplant surgeons from Spain to meet with our local doctors, as part of this continuous transfer of knowledge and skills.  Spain has the highest organ donation per capita in the world and is renowned for its expertise in this area. 


Dr Furlong urged citizens to give the gift of life and become an organ donor.  “Talk to your family members today about becoming an organ donor.  A pledge by a person to donate his or her organs is indeed a great thing”.  Persons can sign up to become a registered organ donor by calling the 800-DONOR Line, or going online at the Health Ministry’s website,


Mr. Luis Pollo, Repsol’s Business Unit Director shared that REPSOL believes it’s their responsibility to help improve the quality of life in the communities in which they operate, hence the decision to approach the Health Ministry for their sponsorship of the training of local doctors in organ transplantation. 

Dr Lesley Roberts, Director of the Ministry’s National Organ Transplant Unit (NOTU) told the attendees that there were 675 persons currently on dialysis in Trinidad and Tobago due to kidney failure.  However when a person’s kidneys fail, there are two treatment options - dialysis or organ transplantation. But having a person dependent on dialysis for life is not the optimum situation.  Kidney transplantation is the best option for a person to live a healthy and productive life.  Dr Roberts indicated that 87 kidney transplants were done by NOTU since 2007 allowing these persons to live their life to the fullest and do all the things they could not do on dialysis.


Dr Maria Paula of DTI spoke at length on why they were excited to work with Trinidad and Tobago.  “We felt that Trinidad and Tobago is in a great position to develop a sustainable deceased organ donor network.  There are trained human resources and hospitals with the structure and facilities already in place for organ transplantation.  We targeted the Port of Spain and San Fernando General Hospitals for the pilot because of the high potential for organ transplantation there.  Trinidad has everything in place to develop transplantation.”

Dr Bridgit Elcock, a Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care at the Port of Spain General Hospital and one of the local doctors who went to Spain for training, spoke about her experience and the progress of the project since returning.  She indicated that the training in Spain consists of 1 week of intense training, followed by 1 month of an internship at a hospital working under several highly experienced transplant surgeons.  Since her return to Trinidad they have been able to identify 81 potential donors from patients who died from cardiac arrest and severe neurological complications such as strokes.  Dr Elcock noted that the organs from these 81 persons could have helped so many other Trinidadians if we already had a vibrant deceased organ donor network in place.

Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, PAHO/WHO Country Representative agreed with Dr Paula that Trinidad and Tobago is poised to be extremely successful at developing a robust organ transplantation service and noted that they were pleased to facilitate this international cooperation and will continue to support the project.  PAHO/WHO will be inviting a team from Uruguay to do some further work with the local doctors