When Is Intestinal Transplant Necessary?

Intestinal transplants, or short bowel transplants, are performed to replace diseased intestines with healthy ones. A part of the small intestine can be transplanted into a child. If needed, other organs can be transplanted at the same time.

When children suffer from advanced intestinal disease, they need to be given nutrition through their veins. This is called total parenteral nutrition (TPN). But TPN can cause serious problems if it needs to be done for a long period of time. Extended administration of TPN can cause the following problems:

  • Children may develop severe liver problems.
  • TPN must be given in a very large vein. TPN can damage these large veins. There are only six veins large enough to use. If all are damaged, there is no way to feed the child.
  • Putting TPN into the large vein can cause serious infections.

When any of these problems occur, doctors must consider an intestinal transplant.

The Demand for Intestinal Transplants

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, in 2004, 152 intestinal transplants (of which 92 were pediatric intestine transplants) and 46 multi-organ liver-intestine transplants (of which 44 were pediatric) were performed in the United States. The waiting list is long, however. As of August 19, 2005, 17,188 (including 142 children) were waiting for an intestine transplant.