Incompatible blood type kidney transplants set to rise

Five years ago, he spent his days lying on the living room couch, too ill and weak to move.

Looking at him today, it is hard to believe that the 51-year-old, who wanted to be known only as Mr K.I., once suffered from end-stage kidney failure and, at his worst stage, was given just 18 months to live.

Life for Mr K.I. became "perfect" after an incompatible blood type transplant at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in 2008.

The father of three, who has O+ blood, received a kidney from his wife, Madam Radiyah Mohd Som, 48, whose blood type is A+.

Normally, both donor and recipient must have a common blood group, or the kidney will be rejected automatically by the recipient's body. But the use of immunosuppressive drugs and other procedures now allow for incompatible blood type transplants for some patients.

Hospitals predict the number of such transplants will rise due to the limited pool of kidney donors and the growing waiting list.

National University Hospital (NUH) has done five such transplants since 2009, while Mount Elizabeth Hospital has handled more than 10 cases since 2008.

Singapore General Hospital (SGH), which started its ABO blood group incompatible kidney transplant programme in 2009, currently has about two to three patients undergoing this procedure annually. Its renal transplantation programme director, Dr Terence Kee, believes the numbers will go up. About 30 per cent of SGH's current referrals for living kidney donor transplants are for ABO blood group incompatible kidney transplants.

But due to the use of stronger immunosuppressive drugs, weaker patients may not be medically fit for such transplants.

Still, living kidney donations are the best treatment for kidney failure. The five-year survival is 95 per cent, compared to 84 per cent if the kidney comes from a deceased donor, said Professor A. Vathsala, co-director of NUH's National University Centre for Organ Transplantation.