Four hard-to-match Saskatchewan patients with immune systems that were likely to reject a donated kidney have received transplants thanks to the national Highly Sensitized Patient (HSP) program officially launched May 22.

Canadian Blood Services, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments and organ donation and transplantation programs around the country, now takes advantage of high-quality laboratories to allocate kidneys with an accuracy and efficiency that is unparalleled.

Minister Ottenbreit

Minister Ottenbriet with Erin Schimph (Manager of SK Transplant Program) in background at the announcement on May 22 at St. Paul’s Hospital.

“For some Saskatchewan patients, this program greatly increases their likelihood of receiving a kidney transplant,” Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit said.  “It has already saved and improved lives and continues to bring hope to 16 Saskatchewan patients registered with the program who otherwise would be unlikely to find a match for a transplant.”

“The launch of the HSP program allows us to provide improved access to lifesaving transplants to Canadians waiting for kidney transplantation,” Canadian Blood Services Board Chair Leah Hollins said.  “When Canadian Blood Services was mandated to develop national services for organ and tissue donation and transplantation in 2008, Canada was one of the only developed nations without a national, co-ordinated system.  We have come a long way and I would like to thank all provincial and territorial governments for the commitment they have demonstrated during the development of the HSP program.”

The launch of the HSP program is an important milestone in improving access to transplants for patients who are difficult to match with a donor kidney due to their high levels of sensitizing antibodies.  These patients, known as ‘highly sensitized’, have developed antibodies that would attack a transplanted kidney unless the organ is very precisely matched.

Until recently, such patients only had access to the limited number of donors in their region.  These hard-to-match patients represent approximately 20 per cent of provincial waitlists, yet receive less than one per cent of available organs.

By increasing access to a larger donor pool, the HSP program promises to improve the chances of a kidney transplant for this highly disadvantaged patient group.  The HSP program first rolled out to Saskatchewan and Manitoba in October 2013 and, by November 2014, all provinces and territories had joined.  Although it is still in its infancy, the HSP program has already yielded success stories.  Since its establishment, the national initiative has facilitated 111 kidney transplants in Canada, including four in Saskatchewan.

“I was told my chance of finding a match was one in 1,000,” Nipawin resident Debbie Posehn said.  “I waited for nearly three and a half years for a kidney.  Then, in October 2013, I was added to the Highly Sensitized Patient registry and received a kidney just over a year later in November 2014.  This program has been a blessing for me and my family.”

Quick Facts

  • The HSP program is for patients needing very specific matches from deceased kidney donors. Through the HSP program, this group of patients now has access to a larger national donor pool, dramatically increasing the chance of a match.
  • Women are disproportionately highly sensitized due to antibodies developed during pregnancy.
  • The Kidney Paired Donation Program, also operated by Canadian Blood Services, also improves patients’ chances of receiving a transplant. To date, there are 13 Saskatchewan residents living with a kidney transplant thanks to living donor matches made through the registry.
  • More than 4,500 people are waiting for organ transplants in Canada today; however, only a fraction of Canadians are registered to donate. While many Canadians are aware of the need for organ transplants, there remains a shortage of donors.
  • For every 1,000,000 Canadians, about 15 people become deceased organ donors each year. Canada’s organ donation and transplant rate lags behind other developed nations.