Jennifer Gilbert needed a kidney, and her aunt, Kimberly Johnson, had one. But instead of removing it through traditional surgery, doctors pulled it out through her vagina. The procedure was done in three hours, and is far less invasive: Johnson, who has three children, said it was easier than childbirth, and was home by the next day.
Instead of the typical five to six-inch abdominal incision, the process involves small pea-sized incisions (in this case, three) in the abdomen and navel, through which cameras are inserted. A bag attached to a hollow tube is then inserted through the vagina. The kidney is cut loose and, using the cameras, doctors guide it into the bag and pull it out through the vaginal opening.
Transvaginal kidney removal, as the procedure is known, has been used in the past on cancerous or nonfunctioning kidneys, and similar removals of gall bladders and appendixes have been done through the mouth and anus. But doctors believe this is the first time the procedure has been done on a healthy organ.
Johnson had already had a hysterectomy, and her lack of uterus made her a good candidate for the procedure—the doctors could benefit from fewer obstructions. Still, the medical community hopes that this new tactic will encourage more people (or, at least, more women) to donate.
Some doctors, however, have concerns about the procedure—specifically, the possibility of organs passing through contaminated areas of the body and getting infected. Not to mention the challenge of getting patients past the ick factor.