Duke makes organ transplants possible for Jehovah’s Witnesses, others

March 16, 2017 GMT

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, only about 2,600 donor hearts become available each year. At any given time, about 4,000 people are on a waiting list for a heart transplant.

In the past, people with religious objections to blood transfusions refused this and other lifesaving procedures. But for many, the surgery is now possible without conflicting with faith.

Raoul Gibson, 35, received a donor’s heart at Duke Hospital last Valentine’s Day. Normally, he would have had to refuse the lifesaving transplant, due to a certain tenet of his Jehovah’s Witness faith.

“The fact that I would not accept blood, blood transfusions, or any whole blood products,” Gibson said.

10 years ago, Duke began their Center for Blood Conservation. They developed a process for any surgery involving transfusions to control bleeding. Duke’s Dr. Mani Daneshmand said they worked closely with Jehovah’s Witness representatives.

“This is accepted strategy for people of the Jehovah’s Witness faith,” Daneshmand said.

Gibson was hospitalized for more than a month, receiving a natural hormone to stimulate red blood cell production.

It would later allow them to remove some of his blood, yet remain true to a key principle.

“We actually keep the blood in continuity with their own blood stream, but we remove it so that the blood cannot bleed,” Daneshmand said.

That more concentrated blood is replaced with other non-blood fluids, so that some bleeding won’t present problems.

There’s also a “cell saver” device.

“So any blood that is lost is immediately scavenged by this device and returned to the blood stream,” Daneshmand said.

“They washed all the organs before they put them in me, so they wouldn’t be exposed to any blood,” Gibson said.

Gibson said he is eager to go home and enjoy a more normal life.

“I am looking forward to see how my new heart feels and how I’ll be able to do new things,” Gibson said.