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Kidney Recipients Support Group of Trinidad and Tobago executive member Feroze Mohammed, left, with the rest of his team before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the National Organ Transplant Unit (NOTU) has not stopped providing life-saving surgeries and post-transplant services for citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, the Kidney Recipients Support Group of T&T (KRSGoTT) has stated.

Since the first signs of the pandemic in early 2020, the NOTU has successfully performed 12 kidney transplants.

Of the 12 renal transplants, eight were from living donors and four from deceased donors.

“While this may seem like a small figure, particularly in comparison to the rate of surgeries performed in prior years, it is no small feat given the widespread impact of the COVID pandemic on all medical services and facilities,” the KRSGoTT stated in a media release.

The NOTU was formed in 2006 and tasked with providing specialised medical services to match available organs to a long list of potential recipients.

Since its formation, the unit has successfully performed 197 organ transplant surgeries for T&T nationals, many of whom would not have been able to have otherwise afforded the procedure.

“These surgeries restored close to normal quality of life for donors and recipients. The first transplant recipient is alive and doing well,” the KRSGoTT stated.

The deceased donor programme was launched in 2007.

To date, T&T has documented 27 deceased donors yielding 46 kidney transplants and six corneal transplants.

“These gifts of life provided by the relatives have given hope to recipients who do not have living donors,” the KRSGoTT stated.

“This is one of the reasons why the work of NOTU is so critical for patients diagnosed with kidney failure. A transplanted, functioning kidney means that a patient can discontinue dialysis and lead a relatively healthy, normal life with the requisite aftercare, which is also supported by NOTU­—including medical counselling, sourcing medication and even acting as a conduit for bringing together the community of local transplant donors and recipients.”

KRSGoTT executive member Feroze Mohammed added, “Accessing this very specialised medical service from NOTU, without saddling the patient with mountains of medical expenses for doctor visits, surgery, drugs and other intangibles has been a lifeline for transplant patients in Trinidad and Tobago.”

KRSGoTT was formed in 2006 as a support group for kidney transplant recipients and their donors. The group has led the charge to creating a structured support community for kidney transplant recipients and their donors and has dedicated itself to advocating for donor registration across the country.

Mohammed shared that since the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, the group was notified of the passing of six transplant patients.

“Not unlike many other at-risk groups in T&T, our community of kidney transplant recipients was impacted significantly by COVID. We dealt with an availability crisis of anti-rejection drugs which are mandatory in the medical protocol for transplantation. This has since improved,” he added.

“The availability of drugs and post-transplant medical care is equally as important as the surgery itself. The opportunity to access the drugs, which must be taken daily, without bearing the astronomical cost for these drugs, has saved many lives. We’ve done the research. Many recipients are unable to purchase some of the drugs on the open market, due to the phenomenal cost.

“We are deeply grateful to the government for its hard work in securing these benefits for transplant patients. The Government and NOTU have been good to us, long may they continue.”