In a breakthrough that overturns accepted medical thinking, Toronto doctors have demonstrated that babies with defective hearts can be given transplants from donors who have different blood groups. The discovery by doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children means that physicians will now be able to use the first donor heart available, rather than waiting for one with the right blood type. Until now, experts believed that an infant given a heart from a donor with a different blood group would react as adults do in that situation—and experience fatal rejection of
the new organ. Doctors speculated that babies’ immature immune systems cannot do that. Reporting in The New England Journal of Medicine, the Toronto team said that although two babies given the new type of transplant died as a result of organ rejection, the difference in blood type was not a factor.
Price of caution
Health authorities in Hamilton say they do not expect to recoup the $60,000 cost of successfully treating a Congolese woman they had suspected last month of being infected with the feared Ebola virus. Colette Matshimoseka, visiting Canada on a business trip, set off an international alarm when she was admitted to a Hamilton hospital on Feb. 4. She showed symptoms resembling those of Ebola, a hemorrhagic virus that has killed hundreds in Congo and neighbouring African countries.
Tests ruled out Ebola but did not identify the mysterious ailment that almost killed Matshimoseka and kept her in the hospital, with no health insurance, for 27 days.
A tale of two provinces
Meningitis outbreaks struck new victims in Alberta and Quebec, raising concerns that the potentially deadly disease may be making a comeback after declining steadily during the 1990s. In Edmonton, a 34-yearold woman was in critical condition in hospital with meningitis—the 61st
case in the Edmonton area since an outbreak that has killed three people began in December, 1999. In Calgary, an eight-year-old boy became that city’s seventh case since Christmas. In another outbreak that has affected 28 Quebecers since Jan. 1, a threeyear-old girl was in critical condition in Quebec City. A vaccination program is already under way in both Calgary and Edmonton. In Ottawa, Health Canada officials said that if outbreaks of the disease continued, more vaccination programs might be considered to protect adolescents and young adults, the groups most vulnerable to the current strain of the meningitis bacterium.
Agonizing choices over palliative care
Palliative care services for Canadians who die in pain are inadequate, according to an expert who warns that if improved services are not provided for Canada’s growing elderly population, euthanasia and assisted suicide will be seen as compassionate alternatives. Dr. Balfour Mount, director of palliative care at Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital, cited estimates that sophisticated, multidisciplinary palliative services are available for only five per cent of Canadians who need them. Writing in Annals, the journal of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Mount compared Canada, where euthanasia and assisted suicide are outlawed, and the Netherlands, where legislators last year took steps towards formally legalizing the practices. He called on Ottawa to develop a national strategy on palliative care, or face growing pressures “to follow Holland’s course.”
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