Trailblazing liver transplant service has now blossomed to meet a vital need

Unpretentious opening ceremony at Ragama last Thursday
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

Many were the VIPs in the health sector who attended a simple ceremony at Ragama last Thursday – but the “most important” of all were a humble young woman and three men. For without them, there would have been no opening ceremony of the ‘Outpatient Facility’ for the Colombo North Liver Transplant Service on Thalagolla Road, opposite the Medical Faculty of the University of Kelaniya.

The building housing the recently opened ‘Outpatient Facility’ at the Colombo North Liver Transplant Service. Pic by Saman Kariyawasam

The young woman, Niroshani Kumari Thoragolla, 27, from Nawalapitiya was the trailblazer in the country who was the first to receive a liver from a living donor, her own mother, on October 15, last year under the expertise of the Colombo North Liver Transplant Service. The others, 55-year-old J.P.N.P. Jayasekara from Kochchikade, 58-year-old W.B. Abeyratne from Gampaha and 60-year-old Kumudusena from Maharagama, are among just five who have undergone groundbreaking surgery to get livers from deceased donors in Sri Lanka.

Of the five transplantations with livers from deceased donors, the three under the Colombo North Liver Transplant Service were performed by a team from the Ragama Medical Faculty at the Ragama Teaching Hospital last year, while the other two were carried out at the National Hospital in Colombo by a team from the Colombo Medical Faculty in 2010.

With the seeds for the Colombo North Liver Transplant Service being sown as a “small chat” on a plane high up in the sky back in 1998, it has now blossomed to meet a vital need, the Sunday Times understands. Otherwise, patients with serious liver trouble or end-stage liver disease who need a new liver have to seek it abroad at great cost or face death.

The chat was between Senior Professor of Medicine, Prof. Janaka de Silva and Professor of Surgery, Prof. K.I. Kemaldeen -- both attached to the Ragama Medical Faculty – while taking wing for the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Society of Gastroenterologists in the United Kingdom.

“The road was long and hard,” conceded Prof. de Silva, who is also a Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, to the distinguished gathering of academics and medical professionals which included Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Ravi Ruberu, Kelaniya University Vice Chancellor Prof. Sarath Amunugama, Ragama Teaching Hospital Director Dr. Roy Perera, Dean of the Ragama Medical Faculty, Prof. Rajitha Wickremasinghe and Hussein and Murthaza Eusufally of the Eusufally Trust which donated the building costing more than Rs. 30 million. Part of this building which houses the ‘Outpatient Facility’ of the Colombo North Liver Transplant Service is also for patients with disabling injuries such as damage to the spinal cord. The ‘Outpatient Facility’ will be for assessment and counselling of patients referred for liver transplantation and follow-up of post-transplant patients.

Putting into place not only the equipment but also the skilled multidisciplinary team needed for these complex transplants, the Colombo North Liver Transplant Service started in earnest in May last year.

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