On 20 July 1969, the eyes of the world's population were riveted to televisions to see the first man to set foot on the moon. Quoting Neil Armstrong: "a small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". For Portugal, that day was also unforgettable because, by the hands of the team led by Professor Linhares Furtado, the first kidney transplant in the country took place in Coimbra.
Since 2009, 20 July has been celebrated as Transplantation Day. With the collaboration of the Portuguese Society for Transplantation of the Portuguese Institute of Blood and Transplantation and patient associations, the aim has been to involve recipients of various organs in the commemoration in order to encourage and to publicize the activity developed in Portugal in this area. In 2019, at the time of the 50th anniversary of the first transplantation, 20 July was institutionalized as the National Day of Organ Donation and Transplantation.
It is important to draw the attention of the general population to organ transplantation and donation. Whereas for some organs, such as the kidney, transplantation above all improves the patient's quality of life, for others, such as the heart, liver or lung, it is essential to save lives.
On the international scene, Portugal stands out in organ removing for transplantation as one of the countries with the highest number of organs per million inhabitant. For example, in 2019, Portugal was the third country in Europe with the highest number of deceased donors per million inhabitants and, in 2020, despite the decrease in numbers due to the SARS CoV 2 pandemic, we managed to maintain positive results, occupying the fourth place. However, the number of organs available for transplantation does not keep up with the needs, leading to waiting lists where patients spend an average of 4 to 6 years to receive organs such as a kidney or have to wait at risk of life, when we talk about vital organs.
Living donor transplantation is an alternative to consider for some organs, such as the kidney or liver. In patients with advanced kidney disease, the existence of an available donor allows the transplantation to be scheduled without the need for other kidney function replacement techniques, such as dialysis. Transplantation allows improving quality of life and greater longevity compared to dialysis, so the dissemination of this activity is essential to sensitize and clarify the population regarding the importance of living donation. In Portugal, as long as the donor is healthy, donation is allowed even if there is no relationship with the recipient. However, only about 20% of kidney transplantations performed come from a living donor.
At CHULN, the deceased donor kidney transplantation programme started in 1989 and the living donor programme in 2002. By the end of 2020, we had performed 1002 deceased donor and 81 living donor transplantations.
Senior Nephrology Assistant
Physician Responsible for the Kidney Transplantation Unit
Nephrology and Kidney Transplantation Service