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AP team scores exclusive access to operating room for pig-to-human transplant

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There’s an ongoing quest by a small number of U.S. doctors to one day ease the nation’s organ transplant shortage with organs from animals. In recent years, the group of doctors has been testing animal-to-human organ transplants in the dead. Coverage of their advances in the field has relied on handout visuals — that is, until now.

AP video journalist Shelby Lum and AP medical writer Lauran Neergaard got a behind-the-curtain look at the challenges of experiments with the dead that may help the more than 100,000 people on the national organ transplant waiting list. Lum was the only journalist in the operating room when a team of doctors at NYU Langone Health recently transplanted a pig kidney into a brain-dead man to see if the organ would work. 

The access was the result of more than a year of source building and planning by Lum and Neergaard, who has covered xenotransplantation for several years. Besides witnessing the operation, Lum also documented follow-up by doctors, who took biopsies of the transplanted pig kidney, and was present when doctors celebrated what would have been the donor’s birthday. Lum and Neergaard also traveled to the man’s family north of New York City to get a deeper look at why the family decided to donate the body for research. 

The result of their work is a collection of stories, photos and videos, with text editing support from Stephanie Nano, that focused on the significance of the pig-to-human transplant. The accompanying social video was a collaboration between Health and Science’s Kyle Viterbo and Digital’s Akira Olivia Kumamoto.

Altogether, the operating room videos were downloaded by customers at least 144 times including by broadcasters in Taiwan, Greece, Hungary, India and elsewhere. The spot story appeared on 502 news websites and had 62,000 total page views on the AP News website and the app.

For a rare look at advances in potentially life-saving medicine, the team of Lum and Neergaard is AP’s Best of Week — Second Winner.

Visit AP.org to request a trial subscription to AP’s video, photo and text services.

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