Seeing Double in the O.R.

 

When identical twin surgeons performed a kidney transplant on identical twin patients, the results warranted a double-take.

Matching sets of surgeons and patients greet news cameras at a Jan. 25 press conference at USC University Hospital. From left, Rafael Mendez, Petra Martinez, Anna Cortez and Robert Mendez.
At first glance it looked like a commercial for Doublemint gum: Twin surgeons, twin patients and a foursome of genetically-indistinguishable kidneys.
Last January at USC University Hospital, identical twin surgeons Rafael G. Mendez and Robert Mendez performed a kidney transplant operation on another set of identical twins — 37-year-old Anna Cortez and Petra Martinez.
Both sisters suffer from congenital kidney disease. But the condition proved to be much more severe for Cortez: due to the strains of pregnancy, she faced the prospect of a lifetime of dialysis.
Cortez needed a new kidney, so her sister volunteered her own partially damaged one.
Why transplant an imperfect organ?
“Normally this would never happen,” says Robert Mendez. “But the fact that they’re identical twins means that they’re, in effect, clones. There’s no chance of rejection because their tissue is exactly the same.”
The doctors did not expect Cortez’s new kidney to last her entire life. They just hoped it would keep her off dialysis for a few years while she waited for a permanent donor organ. The operation was a success, and the twin sisters were released from the hospital a week later, under the bright lights of news cameras.

But in a remarkable epilogue to an already remarkable story, the transplanted kidney has flourished beyond expectations. The doctors are now confident Cortez won’t need another one.
Amazingly, the doctors say, the transplanted kidney is healthier now than it was before the surgery. It turns out that for years the donor twin’s healthy right kidney had taken up the slack for her damaged left kidney, thereby stunting the latter’s growth.
“But now, since we transplanted [the ailing kidney] into Cortez, it’s risen to the challenge and is exhibiting normal function,” says Rafael Mendez.

 


 

 

 


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Photo by Mary Ellen Stumpfl

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