National Organ and Tissue Donor Week–The CHUM and Héma-Québec join forces to increase the number of human tissue donors

Montréal, April 26, 2019–Consenting to donate organs to save lives is also consenting to donate tissues to improve the quality of life of many people. National Organ and Tissue Donor Week, which is under way until April 27, is an opportunity for Héma-Québec and the CHUM to highlight their joint efforts to increase the number of human tissue donations and to explain their importance.

Since May 2018, the CHUM and Héma-Québec have reviewed their processes for identifying and recommending potential human tissue donors. All the steps are now concentrated in the institution’s death management office and the staff have undergone special training. This initiative, unique in Québec, generates a 182% increase annually in the number of potential candidates (recommendations) at the Montréal hospital.

Donating human tissues: giving the legacy of life

Still largely unknown by Quebecers, human tissue donation helps improve the quality of life of 20 sick or injured persons who need a transplant.

As an expert in biological products of human origin, Héma-Québec acts as a supplier of human tissues intended for transplant (including skin grafts, heart valves and muscular-skeletal tissues such as tendons and bones) and makes them available to hospitals in Québec. Moreover, Héma-Québec also collects and prepares ocular tissues to be used in cornea transplants. Héma-Québec's mission is to efficiently meet the needs of all Quebecers for blood and other quality biological products of human origin.

This year, the CHUM is focusing attention on the importance of skin grafts, which are indispensable for the treatment of serious burn victims.

Skin grafts

Skin is essential and acts as a barrier against external injuries and infections. It also regulates the body’s temperature. “The seriousness of a skin burn depends on its depth, size, scope of resulting injuries and area affected. They can be thermal burns, electrical burns, chemical burns or radiation burns,” explains Dr. Ali Izadpanah, head of surgery at the CHUM’s burn unit. Serious burns (deep second degree and third degree burns) can be treated in various ways with skin grafts: autograft and allograft.

In the case of an autograft, healthy skin is retrieved from the body of the burn victim and surgically placed over the affected area. This technique is limited, however, in patients who have more than 50% of their body burned or who have wounds that have difficulty healing, such as diabetics.

The solution then becomes an allograft, i.e. a graft using another person’s skin. The CHUM obtains skin grafts from Héma-Québec’s central bank. In the case of fourth degree burns, amputation becomes necessary because the tissues have been destroyed and the bones are no longer strong. Skin grafts are needed to heal the wounds. Allografts act as biological bandages and fall off at the end of several weeks while waiting to use the patient’s own skin. Esthetic surgery then becomes the alternative to making the wounds less visible.

Techniques of retrieval, analysis and transplantation

Skin is retrieved from a deceased person’s body in Héma-Québec’s laboratories. All the necessary analyses are done to ensure the quality of the graft. The samples are vacuum-sealed and frozen at -80° C. The grafts are thawed before the operation. The surgeon removes the burnt skin (debridement) and cleans the area that will receive this biological bandage. Holes are made in the skin samples to form a mesh, and the mesh is stretched to cover the wounds. Staples, thread and biological glue hold the fragments together.

Skin grafts are essential to the healing of severe burn victims or amputees. “In 2012, when I was 28 years old, I came close to dying. I was zapped with a high-voltage electrical shock that resulted in third and fourth degree burns over 52% of my body. Skin grafts from donors were vital to treating my condition,” recounts transplant recipient Simon Bessette. “I underwent multiple surgeries, a large number of allografts and the reconstruction of my hand. I spent three months at the CHUM-Hôtel-Dieu and ended with rehabilitation at Villa Médica.”

Now 35, Simon describes his life today: “I ski and cycle, dance, share good food with friends and work on thousands of projects. I am studying agronomy at the Université Laval. When I tell my story to people, their smiles shows me just how much it inspires them. My life was worth saving! I am infinitely grateful every day to the man who saved me, the entire medical team and the donors. Thank you to all who make their consent official to donate organs and tissues after death. It’s a generous and vital gesture to save the life of another person!”.

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To learn more about human tissue donation and how to indicate your consent, visit Héma-Québec’s website at www.hema-quebec.qc.ca, Human Tissues section.

Information and co-ordination of interviews:

Héma-Québec
Media line | 514 832-0871
www.hema-quebec.qc.ca

CHUM
Jacinthe Ouellette
514 246-0567
jacinthe.ouellette@ssss.gouv.qc.ca