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Hume-Lee sets transplant record while serving community needs

2022 was the third year in a row the transplant center set a new record for lifesaving surgeries.

Close-up image of three doctors and nurses with their heads looking down as they perform surgery Hume-Lee Transplant Center doctors and nurses perform liver transplant surgery. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

During the month of April, VCU Health News will be publishing a series of stories to mark National Donate Life Month, a national effort to spread awareness about the importance of organ, eye and tissue donations.

VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center crossed a major milestone with 502 total organ transplants in 2022 — the largest and most life-saving year in the center’s history. A closer look at those numbers reveals what Hume-Lee’s leader considers an even bigger story: More than half of transplant recipients were people from underserved populations in the Richmond region.

“The thing that was most important to me when I was considering the opportunity to join the VCU team was how well this program serves our community,” said David Bruno, M.D., interim chair of Hume-Lee and VCU School of Medicine’s Division of Transplant Surgery as well as surgical director of adult and pediatric liver transplant.

Building off record numbers of 494 transplants in 2021 and 459 in 2020, Hume-Lee closed 2022 with another year of outstanding performance, where every transplanted organ equals a life saved:

Kidney transplants continue to lead in overall transplant surgeries, with 297 total.

  • Almost 70% of those were minority recipients.
  • Of the 27 heart transplants, 63% were transplanted into people of color.
  • Liver transplants totaled 168.
  • The smallest volume was pancreas transplants, with 10 cases.

“When you look at these numbers, you can clearly see that our transplant program is actively engaged in providing these lifesaving and life-changing surgeries to meet our mission of quality, effective care across every population we serve,” Bruno said. “That’s the wonderful thing about working here: You see that impact every day in each organ we transplant.”

Most transplant centers are based in urban locations, which reinforce their need to serve the broader diversity found in their regions. At the same time, Bruno says Hume-Lee has been a “transplant safety net,” as it has stepped in to deliver life-saving care for disadvantaged populations. That is at the heart of its mission to “save lives, one transplant at a time.”

“It’s nice to read a mission statement where you’ve actually achieved the goal, but we’re not resting. Hume-Lee is recognized globally for the pioneering work we’ve done as a national and state transplant leader,” Bruno said. “That growth has been rewarding, but I am most proud of the fact that we have some of the best one-year outcomes, particularly for our liver transplant program.”

Hume-Lee has consistently earned top marks from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, which rates transplants enters across several factors. VCU Health has also been recognized as one of the most surgically advanced transplant programs.

Those 2022 successes pushed Hume-Lee to top several other important program benchmarks:

  • Liver transplants have been instrumental in the center’s growth. Surgeons at VCU Health, which operates the sixth largest liver transplant program, have completed 2,000 liver transplants over the years, with 200 of those being surgeries involving living donors.
  • A VCU faculty member since 2019, Vinay Kumaran, M.D., professor and surgical director of living donor liver transplantation, achieved his 800th career living donor surgery in 2022.
  • Hume-Lee also successfully completed its 1,000th kidney transplant involving a living donor.

Creating the best patient experience

The actual transplant surgery is a pivotal moment in a patient’s care journey, but it’s not the only moment; the same applies for living donors.

In the months and even years leading up to a transplant, patients have been treated by physicians with expertise in those organs, and patients will face a significant amount of post-surgical treatment. During their hospital stay, those various elements of care must be tightly orchestrated.

“We are constantly evolving and improving our holistic care — coordinating every individual’s treatment with transplant specialists, surgeons, critical-care providers, transplant coordinators, social workers and others who play important roles with every patient and their family,” Bruno said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that such deep collaboration is the best way for us to provide the best care for patients.”

Other advancements to come in 2023

As one of the nation’s first comprehensive transplant centers, Hume-Lee has earned its reputation for forward-thinking approaches. Program initiatives for the coming year demonstrate a commitment to ongoing advancements in transplant medicine:

  • VCU Health surgeons and physicians are at the forefront in exploring how living donor liver transplants could serve as a new and effective treatment for patients who have limited liver metastases from colorectal primaries. This type of transplant also might be an avenue for patients with liver cancers that are too large or advanced to be treated with organs from deceased donors.
  • The next evolution in the living donor liver program is the ongoing development of new robotic surgical techniques, which already are used at VCU Health for living kidney donors and recipients. Surgeons are preparing to proctor Hume-Lee’s first surgery to procure a living liver donation completely by robotic protocols. That surgery is tentatively scheduled for June 2023.