It is 50 years since a team of doctors of the Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, performed the country’s first successful kidney transplant on February 2, 1971. Since then, the departments of Urology and Nephrology of the CMC have performed 3,755 transplants and 188 deceased donor transplants.
Mohan Rao, who was a surgeon at the CMC, recalled the incidents that led to the first transplant. In 1965 and 1966, there were three unsuccessful kidney transplantation attempts — two in Mumbai and one in Varanasi. Meanwhile, the CMC was planning to begin its transplant programme, according to a press release.
The then principal Jacob Chandy deputed Dr. Rao and nephrologist K.V. Johny to Adelaide where the first successful transplant in Australia had taken place in The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. On returning to Vellore in 1970, they started to plan the first kidney transplant at the CMC. The then director, Dr. Webb, cautioned Dr. Rao about the delicate nature and significance of the first attempt. If this was unsuccessful, then there may be no more transplants in the CMC since patients may refuse to come. The team was asked to go ahead with the transplant with whatever was available. Without two operating theatres — one for the donor and the other for the recipient — Dr. Rao started the operation around 7 p.m. and finished close to midnight.
The patient had received a kidney from his father. “I stayed with the patient till morning as I had no trained transplant nurses — a practice I continued till the team gained confidence. The transplanted kidney started producing urine on the table and continued. There were no complications and the patient was discharged after two weeks,” Dr. Rao recalled, according to the release. They did another transplant three weeks later with good results. That was the start of kidney transplantation in India, he added.
In 1992, the deceased donor transplant programme began at the CMC followed by laparoscopic donor nephrectomies in 1999, the release said. The department of Nephrology has done ABO incompatible transplants and swap transplants.