Vijith Kupleri (left) and his wife Shiba Gayathri were honoured at the International Conference for Initiatives on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation in Abu Dhabii Image Credit: Samihah Zaman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: An expat couple in the UAE who donated the organs of their deceased two-year-old son last year has urged residents to never shy away from becoming organ donors.

The act of organ donation can save another family from the pain that you yourself may be experiencing, Shiba Gayathri, a banker from India, and her husband, Vijith Kupleri, told Gulf News on the sidelines of the International Conference for Initiatives on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation in the capital.

“Our son Vivaan was declared brain dead in October 2021. His lungs had failed and he had had a cardiac arrest, after which the doctors had tried to treat him for a month. It was at this point that we had to make the most difficult decision of our lives,” Gayathri said.

The couple chose to donate their son’s organs, and the transplant team harvested Vivaan’s heart, kidneys, and liver.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, had hailed the couple’s gesture in a tweet.

“Three children’s lives were saved in UAE and Saudi Arabia because of this sacrifice. I am truly thankful to all the teams involved for their efforts. May your soul rest in peace, Vivaan, and my sincere wishes for a healthy life ahead for the three children,” he had tweeted.

The couple were today honoured in Abu Dhabi at the conference.

Act of goodness

Looking back on their choice, Gayathri and Kupleri said they were proud to have been parents to a hero.

“As a parent, the first thing you hear of your child is their heartbeat, and as we heard his heart beating [in the state of brain death], we knew we wanted to keep it beating,” a teary-eyed Gayathri said.

“Having been through the kind of pain that only someone who has experienced it will understand, we did not want it to happen to anyone else.”

Within months of losing their firstborn, the couple became pregnant, and were blessed with another son three months ago.

“We chose to honour his brother’s legacy, and named him Vivaan as well. We also feel that it was our act of organ donation that brought us another gift from God,” Gayathri said.

Honouring donors

Gayathri and Kupleri were one of five organ donor families honoured at the conference, which was organised by the UAE National committee for Donation and Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues. Among them, four expat families had chosen to donate the organs of a deceased member in the UAE, while an Emirati, Sara Al Rayssi, had donated a kidney to a family member.

Cindy Cruz, a Filipina, was among the expats who had chosen to donate the organs of a deceased family member.

Cindy Cruz

“My sister, Jennifer Simbulan, was just 50 years old when she suffered a fata brain aneurysm in June. She was a medical technician at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and in the prime of health, so it was a complete shock for us,” Cruz remembered.

After the declaration of brain death, a medical team approached Cruz to see if her sister could become an organ donor.

“Knowing my sister, she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, and our parents back home in the Philippines agreed completely,” Cruz said.

Increasing transplant rates

The UAE has seen multiple organs transplantations since the first kidney transplant was carried out between related living donors in 1985. In 2016, the nation defined brain death by presidential decree, paving the way for deceased donor transplantations.

The country now has five organ transplant centres, and Dr Bashir Sankari, head of the transplant programme at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s only multi-organ transplant centre, said the programme is now growing rapidly.

“Since the deceased donor programme became active in 2017, we have seen 109 deceased donors in the UAE, whose organs have saved the lives of more than 400 patients in the UAE and Saudi Arabia [from 29 nationalities]. In fact, the programme has been growing at an exponential rate, with 49 deceased donors in the second half of 2021 and 49 deceased donors so far this year,” he said.

Need for more donors

The doctor said there are about seven brain-dead patients in the UAE every day whose organs can be used for transplant. One deceased donor can contribute a total of eight organs, including the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, pancreas, intestines, along with tissues like the cornea and heart valves. And in the presence of a robust transplant programme, a healthcare system can also facilitate transplants of kidneys, livers and bone marrow from living donors.

The UAE has already seen the successful transplantation of kidneys, livers, lungs, hearts, pancreas, corneas, and bone marrow.

“We hope this kind of an international conference will therefore increase the awareness of medical professionals and residents about the importance of, and need for, more organ donation,” he added.

The transplant expert added that there is always a need for more living and deceased donors

“At present, we have about 300 patients on the waiting list for kidneys, along with 40 patients who are waiting for a liver, five who are waiting for a lung, and four for a heart,” Dr Sankari said.

Paired kidney exchange

In a bid to increase the number of transplants, the country is also running a paired kidney exchange programme, which matches living donors and recipients who are incompatible with one another to other compatible donors and recipients.

“There are 20 patients for a paired kidney exchange on our list at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, and we have carried out three so far,” Dr Sankari said.

Other transplant centres in the UAE include the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, the City Medical Clinic and the Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital in Dubai, and Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah.

Further action

Speaking at the conference, Dr Ali Al Obaidli, chairman of the UAE National Transplant Committee, stressed that globally, only 10 per cent of people who need organs to survive actually receive them.

“This calls for more prevention to protect organs, especially as many of the risks for organ failure are modifiable, and for increased awareness so that we can increase the number of donors,” he said.

Support for Hayat

Senior health officials have launched the ‘Abu Dhabi Community Campaign’ to support Hayat, the National Programme for Organ Donation and Transplantation.

The campaign aims to encourage society members to register as organ and tissue donors, contributing to improving the quality of life of patients suffering from organ failure in the UAE and the region.

Abdulla Al Hamed, chairman of Abu Dhabi health regulator, the Department of Health (DoH) became the first to register as an organ and tissue donor in the campaign, leading by example and encouraging community members to follow suit as registered donors.

Abdulla Al Hamed, chairman of the Department of Health - Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

“In honour of the legacy of the [UAE’s Founding Father] late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and in the footsteps of the nation’s leader President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, we continue to consolidate Abu Dhabi’s global position as a leading destination for healthcare. In this, we serve as an incubator for innovation in life sciences, enhancing capabilities in organ donation and transplantation by supporting The National Programme for Organ Donation and Transplantation, ‘Hayat’, which is aimed at improving the health and safety of communities,” Al Hamed said.

The Abu Dhabi community campaign focuses on encouraging all society members to register their request and consent to donate organs and tissues post-mortem, highlighting the success achieved by Abu Dhabi, and showcasing the experience and capabilities of the emirate in areas of organ and tissue donation and transplantation.