Surgery was performed at the Curry Cabral Hospital in Lisbon.
The first liver transplant in Portugal took place 30 years ago at the Curry Cabral Hospital in Lisbon, a revolutionary surgery for the time that has since saved the lives of thousands of terminally ill patients.
It was on September 23, 1992 that the team led by surgeon João Pena performed the first liver transplant on a 46-year-old patient who suffered from “feet disease” and was in a serious situation. The surgery took about eight hours and went well, but the patient died three years later.
In October of that year, the second patient was operated on in the Transplantation Unit of the Curry Cabral Hospital, which is part of the Centro Hospitalar Universitário Lisboa Central (CHULC). She was operated on at age 59 for primary biliary cirrhosis and the “new” liver she received allowed her to still be alive and on the cusp of her 90th birthday.
Since then, more than 2,500 liver transplants have been performed at Curry Cabral, accompanied by many “extraordinary stories”, Hugo Pinto Marques, current director of CHULC’s general surgery service and coordinator of the Hepato-Bilio-Pancreatic and of Transplantation, created in 2005 by the surgeon Eduardo Barroso, who directed the service until his retirement in 2018.
“We have stories of patients who have been alive for many years”, some were transplanted with diseases that at the time there were doubts as to whether they were legitimate to be operated on, said the surgeon, noting that there are also less happy stories. Despite this, considered Hugo Pinto Marques, “the unit has a very high success rate”, with 75% of patients alive five years after the transplant.
This data is “a reason for pride” for Portugal and “for the SNS as well”, he considered.
As it is a “great complexity” surgery, it is only proposed for terminally ill patients, he said.
Over the three decades, thousands of patients were transplanted with foot disease, cirrhosis of various causes, liver cancer and other types of cancer that also lodge in the liver. Many lives were saved.
As for the pediatric transplant, he said that it is rare, about 10 per year, being performed only in Coimbra. In young people, they are not so rare. “Fulminant hepatitis and acute liver failure are emerging situations (…) in which transplants are more difficult and the success rate is also lower”, he said.
But there were many challenges faced in the beginning by surgeons João Pena and Eduardo Barroso, pioneers in transplantation at Curry Cabral, and who went abroad to learn from those who already had experience. According to Hugo Pinto Marques, they mainly struggle with problems that are often technical, related to the difficulty of the surgery, which “is difficult, long”, and can sometimes last 20 or more hours.
“Our predecessors, to whom we owe a lot, walked this path, learned all this. They had the difficulties that they had to have with the first patients, which were overcome with time”, said the surgeon, who has been at the center for 18 years, one of the largest in Europe, which performs between 100 and 140 transplants a year. Currently, it is the hospital center in Portugal with the highest number of liver transplant patients, with Coimbra accounting for around 1,600 and Porto for around 1,550.
In addition to the “great difficulties” of transplant techniques, there are complications in terms of anesthesia, intensive care and, above all, in terms of organ rejection, which is now “much less frequent” due to the “huge evolution in drugs and medication” used. to avoid this situation.
At the service, the hustle and bustle is great, as nurse Anabela Rodrigues, who has been in the unit for 19 years, told Lusa.
There, transplant patients are hospitalized for less than 15 days, when the surgery goes well, but also those who have to be readmitted due to complications. In these situations, the hospital stay is longer.
After discharge, patients continue to be followed up in the consultation, which creates a link between patients and professionals.
The nurse said that patients often go to the consultation and then visit them to “kill their homes, as they say”, always having “an eternal gratitude”.
“We are here for them and, therefore, their happiness or sadness also becomes ours”, said Anabela Rodrigues, with a twinkle in her eye.
Hugo Pinto Marques praised the work carried out by the pioneer surgeons who created a structure and a team of doctors, nurses and health professionals in general that transformed “the experience of a small surgery service 30 years ago into a gigantic structure”.