18 December 2009

Walter Reed performs rare transplant of pancreas cells to save wounded Airman

After Airman Tre Porfirio was shot in the back three times by an insurgent at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, he underwent two operations there, including one that removed much of his pancreas, before being flown to Germany and then on to Walter Reed.

However, his damaged pancreas was leaking digestive enzymes which threatened his other organs. That's when Craig D. Shriver, chief of general surgery at Walter Reed teamed up with Camillo Ricordi, who heads the University of Miami's Diabetes Research Institute, to perform what is believed to be the first procedure of its kind.

The operation involved removing the airman's pancreas at Walter Reed; flying the organ to Miami, where the cells were extracted and preserved; and then returning the cells to Washington, where they were infused into the patient's liver. There the cells become permanent residents, secreting hormones into the bloodstream and performing part of the function of the original pancreas. The process occurred over less than 24 hours and involved about 60 people.

Speaking by telephone to reporters, the airman's father, Karl Porfirio, thanked the surgical teams and everyone who helped his son, "from the first soldier who touched him when he hit the ground."

Amazing. All the best for a speedy and full recovery, Airman Porfirio!

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