Rare transplant allows young woman to forgo 60 pills daily

March 14, 2012

Surgeons at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System performed a rare living-donor parathyroid gland transplant to help a 22-year-old woman maintain normal calcium levels without the need for high-dose supplementation.

Ashley Slussar, of Joliet, Ill., had all of her parathyroid glands removed in 2006 because they had grown large and were overproducing . The hyperparathyroidism was caused by years of kidney disease and dialysis, which she needed to survive.

As a result of having no parathyroid glands, she required 60 calcium pills a day to maintain normal calcium blood levels. Without the supplements, she could suffer life-threatening complications.

Slussar was first diagnosed with kidney disease when she was 12 years old. She had received two living-donor kidney transplants, one in 2003 from her mother and the other in 2006 from her sister.

Slussar's parathyroid glands were removed following the first kidney . The parathyroid glands (located in the neck behind the thyroid) regulate calcium levels in the blood. Slussar's parathyroid glands were overactive and needed to be removed to prevent dangerously high calcium and diffuse bone destruction.

UIC surgeons began brainstorming how to help Slussar with a parathyroid transplant.

Dr. Enrico Benedetti, chief of surgery at the University of Illinois Hospital, had read in the medical literature about the first successful parathyroid transplant, performed in 1984. But the patient and donor in that case were identical twins.

Slussar did not have an identical twin, but Benedetti believed that her sister, who had already donated her kidney, was Ashley's best hope.

"Ashley was already taking anti-rejection medication after receiving her sister's kidney, and we believed that transplanting one parathyroid gland would produce enough parathyroid hormone to help regulate her ," said Benedetti, the Warren H. Cole Chair in Surgery at UIC.

A surgical team led by Dr. Pier Cristoforo Giulianotti, chief of minimally invasive, general and robotic surgery at the hospital, used the robotic-assisted da Vinci Surgical System to delicately remove one of Kimberly Slussar's four tiny parathyroid glands.

Traditional surgery to remove the , or the larger thyroid gland, involves making a 1- to 4-inch incision in the lower neck, leaving a noticeable scar after surgery.

Instead, Giulianotti made one small incision under her sister's right arm to accommodate the robotic arms and endoscopic camera. One parathyroid gland was removed from Kimberly and transplanted into Ashley last September.

This transplant procedure may be relevant for a only small number of patients, but the robotic-assisted parathyroidectomy and thyroidectomy procedures "are valuable for the vast majority of patients who want to avoid a neck incision for cosmetic reasons," said Giulianotti, the Lloyd M. Nyhus Professor of Surgery at UIC.

For Kimberly, the robotic donor operation made the procedure more acceptable, since she would not have a visible scar in her neck.

Ashley is now being weaned from calcium supplements -- she's down to 10 pills daily -- and will soon require no supplementation. Her parathyroid hormone levels are now within normal limits.

"I'm very happy that I could help Ashley -- twice," said Kimberly, who finds it difficult to imagine everything her sister has gone through in the past 10 years.

"I would do it again to help her live a more normal life without dialysis and without having to take all those pills each day."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

World's first child hand transplant a 'success'

July 19, 2017
The first child in the world to undergo a double hand transplant is now able to write, feed and dress himself, doctors said Tuesday, declaring the ground-breaking operation a success after 18 months.

Knee surgery—have we been doing it wrong?

July 18, 2017
A team of University at Buffalo medical doctors have published a study that challenges a surgical practice used for decades during arthroscopic knee surgery.

New tools help surgeons find liver tumors, not nick blood vessels

July 17, 2017
The liver is a particularly squishy, slippery organ, prone to shifting both deadly tumors and life-preserving blood vessels by inches between the time they're discovered on a CT scan and when the patient is lying on an operating ...

Researchers discover indicator of lung transplant rejection

July 13, 2017
Research by scientists at Dignity Health St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center's Norton Thoracic Institute was published in the July 12, 2017 issue of Science Translational Medicine titled "Zbtb7a induction in alveolar ...

New device could make closing surgical incisions a cinch

July 7, 2017
Like many surgeons, Dr. Jason Spector is often faced with the challenge of securely closing the abdominal wall without injuring the intestines. If the process goes awry, there can be serious consequences for patients, including ...

Success with first 20 patients undergoing minimally invasive pancreatic transplant surgery

June 29, 2017
Surgeons at Johns Hopkins Medicine report that their first series of a minimally invasive procedure to treat chronic pancreas disease, known as severe pancreatitis, resulted in shorter hospital stays, less need for opioids ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.