The first-ever cadaver maintenance programme in the country, to be launched at the Stanley Hospital on Monday, is likely to put an end to organ trade in the State if successful, say experts.

A five-bedded unit, fully equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment, will offer completely free services for ‘brain dead’ patients for as long as it takes for the relatives to bring themselves to donate the organs or until death.

R. Surendran, head, surgical gastro-enterology, Stanley Hospital, who also led the team that performed the first successful liver transplant surgery at the hospital, says if the programme is successful, it will force organ trading out of business.

“When we analysed why we are unable to use more cadavers for organ transplantation, it transpired that a key reason was that the patient’s relatives refused to believe ‘brain death.’ This is because even medical officers are not aware of what brain death is about,” he says.

Brain death is the irreversible cessation of all activities in the body and occurs when oxygen supply to the brain stem is cut off.

As part of the cadaver maintenance programme, hospitals in and around Chennai can inform the team at Stanley if they suspect brain death in a patient. The team will reach the hospital and conduct independent tests using a portable EEG machine to measure electrical activity in the brain. A flat line indicates brain death. The patient will be brought to the Stanley Hospital and lodged in a room where the Apnea test will be performed twice to legally prove brain death and certify it.

Another reason why cadaver donation has failed to kick off in a big way is because preservation of organs is crucial and requires a set-up that is geared to maintain the cadaver until the organs can be harvested. “Many hospitals are not equipped to do so. Our service is for the brain dead patients in such hospitals,” says Dr. Surendran.

Grief counsellors have been appointed to speak to the patient’s kin, explaining the concept of cadaver organ donation. If the relatives consent, then harvesting will be done at the hospital by a transplantation team.

The organs thus harvested will be allocated depending on the need of patients in the following order of priority: first, to the hospital where the patient is declared brain dead (in this case, Stanley); followed by government institutions, charitable hospitals and, finally, private hospitals. The sharing among hospitals will be done through the channel set up by the government — the Convenor, Cadaver Transplant Programme.

“We are sure that the success of the Cadaver Maintenance Programme can be measured in a year’s time.