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Yeast Infection Ruins First U.S. Uterus Transplant

It's an everyday infection that affects nearly all American women, and it ruined the first U.S. uterus transplant.
image: Uterus Transplant Surgery 3
Uterus Transplant Surgery being performed by surgeons of Cleveland Clinic on Feb. 26, 2016.Ken Baehr

A yeast infection ruined the first-ever attempt at a uterus transplant in the U.S., doctors said Friday.

The Cleveland Clinic said they’d identified the culprit that forced them last month to remove the uterus from a woman trying to get pregnant for the first time in her life, and said it was Candida – a common microbe that affects tens of millions of women.

Lindsey, 26, successfully received the first U.S. uterus transplant.Cleveland Clinic / NBC News

The clinic, which had carefully orchestrated international media coverage of the transplant, had to announce the operation had failed last month just hours after rolling out the patient for television cameras.

Now they know why.

“Preliminary results suggest that the complication was due to an infection caused by an organism that is commonly found in a woman’s reproductive system. The infection appears to have compromised the blood supply to the uterus, causing the need for its removal,” the clinic said in a statement Friday.

“There is an ongoing review of all the data and the team is modifying the protocol to reduce the chances of this complication occurring again in the future. The health of our patient is and has always been our primary concern.”

At least 75 percent of adult women in the U.S. get a yeast infection at least one in their lives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“Three transplant centers been approved by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) to perform uterine transplants,” UNOS says. They include Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Cleveland Clinic. They’re all planning to do the transplants as part of a clinical trial –an experiment to see if the procedure’s safe enough to offer commercially.

The 26-year-old transplant patient, who's been named only as Lindsey, said last month that she had been told at age 16 she could not have a biological child. She said she and her husband had adopted three boys, but she wanted to try the operation to see if she could become pregnant.

The procedure has been done nine times in Sweden with five successful pregnancies, although surgeons say it's tricky. Patients only keep the uterus long enough to have a child or two and then the organ is removed because of the risks of rejection.