Alex Dan’s siblings, pictured on May 28, 2018, at the family home in Breasclete on the 50th anniversary of his death. They are, from left to right: Margaret Campbell, Norman Smith, Mary Ann Spence, Chirsty Mairi Macleod, John Smith, Catherine Macleod, Kenny Smith and Dolina Monaghan.
The family of Alex Dan Smith, who underwent the first lung transplant in Europe 50 years ago in a bid to save his life after accidental poisoning, have called for opt-out organ donation to be brought into effect as a matter of urgency.
The brothers and sisters of Alex Dan made the call after marking the 50th anniversary of his death on Monday, May 28.
Surgeons operated on 15-year-old Alex Dan in Edinburgh in 1968, in a landmark case that made headlines around the world, to try to save him after he accidentally drank paraquat weedkiller, which attacks the lungs.
He had received a lung from 18-year-old Anne Main, after her parents agreed to the donation.
Sadly the operation did not save Alex Dan, who was from the village of Breasclete, as the poison was still in his system and damaged the new lung.
As transplant surgery was in its infancy, medics had not known – until Alex Dan’s case – that the blood must be filtered in order for the procedure to succeed.
Opt-out legislation is planned for Scotland and a consultation was carried out by the UK government a few months ago.
Speaking on Tuesday, May 29, Alex Dan’s siblings, said: “We as a family were extremely grateful at the time of Alex Dan’s illness to the parents of Anne Main for giving permission for her lung to be used in an attempt to save our brother’s life, in what must have been very distressing circumstances for them.
“It was unfortunate that, due to the state of medical knowledge about the effects of paraquat in the blood, the procedure, although technically successful, did not save Alex Dan’s life.
“Over the past 50 years there have been tremendous developments in the use of transplants – as a method of treating diseases of kidney, liver, heart, lung, etc – but there is a fundamental problem due to the shortage of donor organs and many people die while on the waiting list for a transplant procedure.
“Under the current legal system we have to opt into a donor list, whereas if this was changed to an opt-out procedure, we believe that many more organs would be available for transplant.
“In the country that has done this – Spain – transplants significantly increased as a result of the change in the law and we would urge the government to look at this with a degree of urgency.”
Alex Dan Smith at a school sports day
NOTE: This text has been updated at the request of the writer since the post was first created.
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For background on the story of Alex Dan, visit http://www.hebrideswriter.com/2018/05/28/the-breasclete-boy-who-made-transplant-history/