Graham Starkey in Nepal at one of the country's first liver transplants

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Austin Health helps create history in Nepal

20 August 2019

Mr Graham Starkey, surgeon with Austin Health's Liver Transplant Unit, was part of an international medical team which successfully completed one of Nepal's first liver transplants.

Mr Starkey supported and guided Nepalese surgeon Professor Ramesh Bhandari during the procedure at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu - the first transplant at the University - along with colleagues from Delhi's Apollo Hospital.

Mr Starkey says it's a wonderful achievement for all involved and a significant milestone for the region as a whole.

"People with liver disease in Nepal who can afford treatment go to India," he says.

"Professor Bhandari's vision is to eventually eliminate the need for sick patients to travel across the border to receive liver treatment and develop a system in his home country instead."

The transplant involved a live donation from a daughter to her father and both were on track with their recovery and doing well.

Mr Starkey was only given three days' notice about the procedure and Professor Bhandari says his support and guidance was invaluable.

"He stayed back with us a few days after the transplant procedure to guide us in managing the transplant patients," he says.

Professor Bhandari first came to Austin Health to observe and assist in liver transplant surgery for a month in 2010 and 2011.

"The Austin transplant team was perfect," Professor Bhandari says.

"Everyone was so friendly and supportive and the program was being run so smoothly.

"It boosted my interest in developing a liver transplant program in my own country - I had a strong feeling I would be able to convince the Austin team to help me in the future if I could take the first step in realising my goal."

In 2014 he was invited for a 12-month fellowship at the Austin and completed formal liver transplant training, working alongside Mr Starkey and Professor Robert Jones.

"Getting to work with Bob and Graham was a special opportunity for me," Professor Bhandari says.

"I always wished - and still do - that I could be like them."

When he returned home he began work to achieve his goal of establishing a liver transplant program in his native Nepal.

It was a huge undertaking and involved funding applications, facility upgrades for anesthesia, surgery and the ICU, acquiring government permits and building a team with multiple specialties.

After the success of the first transplant, a second transplant was successfully completed in July and Professor Bhandari and his team are now busy preparing for a third transplant.