What is an intestine transplant?

An intestine transplant is the process of removing a patient’s diseased small intestine and replacing it with a healthy donor intestine. A transplant is the preferred method for restoring digestive function to a child whose small intestine is permanently failing.

A common cause for intestinal failure in children is short bowel syndrome (SBS). There are a number of diseases and conditions that can lead to intestinal failure in children. Learn more about how the small intestine works.

The transplant process requires extensive preparation and lifelong follow-up care. To learn about the transplant process at Seattle Children’s, see what to expect if your child needs an intestine transplant.

About the Intestine Transplant Program

The Intestine Transplant Program at Seattle Children’s provides compassionate, state-of-the-art care to children who have complex digestive conditions.

We treat infants, children, teens and young adults from birth through age 21 for many types of short-term and chronic intestinal disorders in our Liver and Intestine Transplant Clinic.

For children with irreversible intestinal failure, Seattle Children’s has the only program in the Pacific Northwest – and one of only a handful in the country – that has specialists who can perform intestine transplants. We provide care before, during and after intestine transplant.

Our Doctors’ Expertise

Our intestine transplant team is led by two internationally recognized doctors who have performed close to 1,000 transplants in children needing new intestines or both liver and intestines. Dr. Simon Horslen, a pediatric liver and intestine specialist (or hepatologist), is Seattle Children’s medical director of liver and intestine transplantation. Dr. Jorge Reyes, a surgeon who helped pioneer the field of intestine transplant, is Seattle Children’s director of transplant services.

Horslen and Reyes have provided care for more children with intestinal failure than any other pair of doctors in the nation. They are part of Seattle Children’s renowned team of transplant physicians.

In the last decade, Seattle Children’s doctors helped pioneer intestine transplantation surgery. This new treatment has progressed from being a completely experimental procedure to being the preferred method for treating children with permanent intestinal failure.

We also have the only complete Intestinal Rehabilitation Program in the Pacific Northwest. The program helps children restore their intestinal function through diet, medication and nontransplant surgery. With recent advances in intestinal rehabilitation, we have greatly reduced the need for intestine transplants in children.

In addition to our transplant doctors, your child’s surgical team includes a doctor who will give your child medicine to sleep during surgery (pediatric anesthesiologist).

Other Team Members

Before, during and after the transplantation, the same team of doctors, nurses and specialists will care for your child and help your family. In addition to doctors, our team of specialists includes:

  • Physician assistants who are licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision
  • Advanced registered nurse practitioners who hold master’s degrees. They take primary responsibility for the care of our patients.
  • Registered nurse coordinators who arrange for the providers your child will see during clinic visits
  • Dietitians to ensure your child gets the nutrition they need for growth and development
  • Pharmacists to prepare medicines prescribed by your child’s doctors. They also will tell you about a medicine’s purpose, effectiveness and side effects.
  • Social workers to help your family understand and deal with the emotional and practical aspects of medical care
  • Child life specialists who help your child and your family adjust to the hospital experience. They will also help you deal with anxiety and develop positive coping skills.
  • Transplant specialists to schedule visits and help manage insurance coverage and finances