A few years ago, a 47-year-old Toronto woman received a lifesaving double-lung transplant. After the transplant, she suffered four anaphylactic attacks. Her doctors were stumped since she had never had any serious allergic reactions before.
The mystery was solved after her physician discovered that the organ donor was a twelve-year-old boy who had suffered from an acute peanut allergy. They also realized that the woman’s four allergic reactions had happened after she ate foods that may have contained peanuts. It appears that the donor’s allergy had been transferred to the woman along with his lungs, reports the National Post.
How could this happen? Dr. Susan Tarlo, an allergy and asthma expert who treated the woman, said “When it’s transplanted, everything in the organ is transplanted.” There are also reports of transplant recipients becoming allergic to seafood, bananas, penicillin, and pet dander, among other allergens.
While such instances are unusual, a few recent cases have led medical experts to call for screening potential organ donors for serious allergies. Until now, that piece of their medical background has been largely ignored. Health Canada has drafted guidelines calling for doctors to ask potential donors about their history of allergic reactions.
If a transplant recipient is not informed of the donor’s allergies, they may be “unaware of the risk for potentially life-threatening hypersensitivity reactions,” says Health Canada in urging for this new screening process. The new guidelines do not exclude those with serious allergies from becoming organ donors, but do call for doctors to advise organ recipients to undergo allergy testing and, if necessary, to avoid specific allergens.