Controversial surgeries — the first of their kind in India — have been successfully performed involving the transplantation of a uterus from mother to daughter. Currently there are no guidelines issued for uterus transplants, the surgeries are deemed to be experimental as there is no track record. Due to this the surgeries are considered elective, non-life saving procedures.
Dr Shailesh Puntambekar, medical director of the Galaxy Care Hospital in Pune, has led the team performing two uterus transplant surgeries. Dr Puntambekar is a cancer surgeon who has recently taken an interest in uterus transplant surgeries, inspired by Dr Mats Brannstrom – a Swedish surgeon who has been the only one to conduct successful uterus transplants so far.
The surgery is listed as experimental. Because Dr Puntambekar is currently the only doctor to perform this kind of surgery in India. He is not an expert in gynaecology and has never performed transplant surgery before.
The first surgery took a total of nine and a half hours. The patients involved were a 21 year old woman and her 43 year old mother, the donor of the uterus. Dr Puntambekar commented, “The procedure is difficult because multiple large arteries are to be joined there, and veins that are small and short….It is technically very tough.”
Doctors believe it will take around a year for the 21 year old to heal fully, as well as for her body to adjust to the new womb. Following this year long recovery period the woman has the option of then receiving in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment to attempt to become pregnant. Thus far, only six babies have ever been born from women receiving a transplanted uterus. Two of these babies were from the same mother.
The surgery has drawn condemnation from the man who pioneered it — Dr Brannstrom. Though the surgery seemed to be a success, Brannstrom claims that it was performed without the proper preparations, his view largely focusing on the doctor performing the surgery being unqualified to do so.
The surgery is, “a dangerous escapade of surgical cowboys,” according to Brannstrom. In an interview with the Hindustan Times he says, that the doctors involved want, “to be the first in their country and to get (worldwide) publicity and fame easy.”
Despite the criticism, the surgery represents hope for women who cannot conceive due to medical reasons. The 21 year old woman who received the surgery for example, was born without a uterus. Without this surgery there would be no hope that she would ever become pregnant.
Any surgery however, comes with risks, and there is never a guarantee that even after this kind of surgery the patient may become pregnant as normal. Some worry that especially in India — where women face social pressure to become mothers — many will opt for this surgery and face those risks despite safer options being available such as surrogacy and adoption.