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About a month and a half after the first uterus transplant in the United States was performed, doctors announced the reason why it had failed. The recipient’s uterus was removed due to a vaginal yeast infection, according to a statement released Friday by the Cleveland Clinic.
On February 24, 26-year-old Texas woman Lindsey McFarland became the first U.S. patient to receive a uterus transplant, following several successful transplants with live donors done in Sweden. Cleveland Clinic doctors performed the transplant, taking the organ from a deceased donor, and after the nine-hour operation, everything seemed to be going well for McFarland. The mother of three adopted children was born without a uterus, which necessitated the transplant.
“I’ve prayed that God would allow me that opportunity to experience pregnancy,” McFarland said in March shortly after the transplant, with her husband Blake standing by for support. “And here we are today at the beginning of that journey.”
Unfortunately, McFarland had suffered an unexpected setback almost two weeks after the operation, and the transplanted uterus had to be surgically removed. The reason behind the setback was only confirmed Friday by the Cleveland Clinic.
“Preliminary results suggest that the complication was due to an infection caused by an organism that is commonly found in a woman’s reproductive system,” the hospital said in its prepared statement. “The infection appears to have compromised the blood supply to the uterus, causing the need for its removal. The health of our patient is and has always been our primary concern.”
Cleveland Clinic transplant surgeon Dr. Andreas Tzakis also expounded on the yeast infection McFarland suffered, explaining to reporters that it was caused by the most common infection-causing form of yeast. He added that doctors remain unsure whether the infection came from the donor or from McFarland herself.
“The complication was an infection with a fungus called candida albicans, which is ubiquitous in a lot of parts of the body, particularly female organs,” he explained. “Normally it resides in people without causing a problem. If someone is immuno-compromised it can cause an infection.”
Tzakis and Cleveland Clinic OB-GYN head Dr. Tommaso Falcone also confirmed that the hospital is postponing a clinical trial for future uterus transplants for the meantime, until it is sure that similar or identical complications do not take place. They said that Cleveland Clinic will be using antifungal medications and making “some adjustments” to the methods used in the surgery, to avoid these complications.
Meanwhile, McFarland is “doing well” following the failed uterus transplant, Tzakis added. “(She) is a wonderful young lady, with a very powerful personality, an excellent family and able to handle this extremely well,” he said. “She is a pioneer and her heart is all in.”