The New Frontier Of Human Organ Transplants

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Zion Harvey, center, who received a double hand transplant in July 2015, shakes hands with a health care worker as his mother Pattie Ray, left, smiles during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016 at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in Philadelphia. (Dake Kang/AP)
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This program was originally broadcast on September 7, 2016.

Human transplants. Hand, face, uterus, even head transplants in the news now. We’ll look at the widening frontier of transplant surgeries.

The world can look tough, but some people are getting new starts out there – with transplants. Hearts and kidneys we know about. Great gifts from donors who literally give life. But the world of transplants has been expanding, too. You may have heard. Hands. Arms. Faces. More. Transplants that go to quality of life. How far should and will that go? This hour On Point: We talk to a face transplant recipient, and the doctors on the transplant frontier. —Tom Ashbrook

Guests: 

Alexandra Sifferlin, health writer for TIME Magazine and Time.com. (@acsifferlin)

Carmen Blandin Tarleton, received a full face transplant in 2013. Author of “Overcome: Burned, Blinded, Blessed.” (@CarmenTarleton)

Dr. Scott Levin, chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Penn Medicine, director of the hand transplantation program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He led the team that performed the world’s first bilateral hand transplant on a child (9-year-old Zion Harvey, pictured above).

Lainie Friedman Ross, professor of clinical medical ethics at the University of Chicago. Associate director for the McLean Center for Clinical Ethics. Co-author of Transplantation Ethics.

From Tom’s Reading List 

TIME: What Life Looks Like After the World’s Most Extensive Face Transplant — “Last August, Hardison underwent a 26-hour surgery to replace his face with that of a 26-year-old bike mechanic who’d been killed in a cycling accident. Though there had been 37 face transplants since the first was performed in France in 2005, Hardison’s was by far the most extensive. Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, head of the NYU Langone Medical Center face-transplant program, told Hardison he had only a 50% chance of surviving the procedure, since no one had successfully transplanted as much face and scalp tissue before.”

STAT: The arms belonged to someone else. Grueling work made them his own. — ” Finding the right transplant patient is key: someone who has the emotional makeup to do the work that’s required every day for the rest of his or her life. The psychological aspects of success are far harder than the technical aspects of the transplant itself.”

The Atlantic: The Audacious Plan to Save This Man’s Life by Transplanting His Head — “The operation would cost between $10 million and $100 million, depending on where it took place, and require 80 surgeons. Ren’s Italian partner has said it could happen as early as next year. Not surprisingly, many scientists and ethicists have slammed the project, accusing the surgeons involved of promoting junk science and raising false hopes. One critic even argued that the surgeons should be charged with murder if the patient dies—as he almost certainly would.”

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