..Demi-Lee Brennan has changed blood types and immune system...
By Kate Sikora, Health Reporter January 25, 2008 12:00am ()
FIFTEEN-year old Demi-Lee Brennan defies belief.
Dubbed the "one-in-six-billion miracle girl", the South Coast teenager is the first transplant patient ever to change blood types and take on the immune system of her organ donor.
Her body's ability to accept a new liver - and then produce new blood cells on its own - has left doctors mystified.
The rare phenomenon now means Demi no longer has to take a cocktail of anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life.
It also gives hope to the 1800 gravely ill Australians awaiting a transplant.
Demi, of Kiama, resembles a healthy teenager who displays no signs of her ordeal - other than the scar on her body.
And, in an unexpected medical first, she has experienced a change in blood type from Onegative to Opositive, as a result of her body seeming to perform its own bone marrow transplant.
"It's kind of hard to believe," Demi said yesterday.
"When I look back, it doesn't feel like it happened."
When Demi was nine she became seriously ill and needed a life-saving liver transplant.
Doctors at the Children's Hospital at Westmead believe a yet-to-be-identified virus caused her liver to fail.
A donor was found but after nine months Demi fell ill again - with doctors unable to identify the problem.
During that first nine months, Demi was put on routine anti-rejection drugs after her liver transplant surgery.
Then doctors found that Demi's body had begun to destroy its own blood cells and, at the same time, the donor's blood stem cells took over her immune system.
Doctors then halted the anti-rejection drugs, realising her blood type - and immune system - had taken on the characteristics of her organ donor.
Their discovery is now the subject of medical research being pursued around the world.
Former head of Westmead's liver transplant unit, Dr Stuart Dorney, said there is no explanation for what occurred.
"We now need to go back over everything that happened to Demi and see why, and if, it can be replicated," he said.
"It may not be (replicated). We think because we used a young person's liver and Demi had low white blood cells that could have been a reason."
It has been almost four years since Demi received her liver and is hoping to permanently stay off anti-rejection drugs.
"I am really thankful (to the donor's family) and I hope that so many people can do this too," she said. "I would say to other transplant patients, 'stay strong and determined'.
In Australia, about 100 liver transplant procedures are carried out each year. Of those, paediatric liver transplantations account for 20 per cent.
Recipients have an 85 per cent survival rate one year after successful surgery but the rate reduces to 70 per cent after five years due to possible organ rejection complications.
Australia has one of the lowest organ donor levels in the developed world at 9.8 donors per million people.
How the 'miracle' happened
* Demi-Lee Brennan has liver transplant. Anti-rejection drugs taken
* Nine months later she falls ill. Her blood type changes to that of her donor
* New liver's blood stem cells penetrate her bone marrow
* Her body performs its own bone marrow transplant by donor's blood cells taking over her immune system and no longer treating liver as foreign
* Her body no longer treats the donated liver as foreign * Demi no longer requires anti-rejection drugs. She is a normal, healthy teenager
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