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VCU Health breaks records in heart, kidney and liver transplants, as well as total transplants, all kinds

Doctor talking to a patient

VCU Health conducted more organ transplants in 2019 than in any other year in its more than 60-year history — 434 total transplants.

Of the 434 organs transplanted, 304 were kidneys, shattering last year’s record of 202. By volume, this places VCU Health’s kidney transplant program as No. 11 in the United States and No. 5 on the East Coast.  In addition, 87 livers were transplanted — a calendar year record, and 35 heart transplants took place — the most since 1988. These records help place VCU among the top transplant centers on the East Coast.

According to Marlon Levy, M.D., chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery and director of the Hume-Lee Transplant Center, it’s an amazing chapter for one of the oldest transplant centers in the country. “This is a phenomenal accomplishment for the team, one our center could not have imagined a few short years ago,” he said, noting that it takes dozens of staff members to care for, coordinate and support a single patient before, during and after an organ transplant or living organ donation.

Innovation key to success

Among the factors influencing the record-breaking year was the formation of a unified transplant service line. The new service line joins abdominal and thoracic transplant programs under one transplant umbrella to provide greater coordination and care for heart, kidney, liver, pancreas and mechanical circulatory support patients. The new structure increases efficiencies and fuels collaboration, further strengthening transplant care and innovation.

Living donation provides more organs

Increased emphasis on living donation also played a part in VCU Health’s record-setting year. In 2019, VCU Health performed its first living donor liver transplant since 2014, an accomplishment following a revitalized living liver program. Among the changes was the addition of living liver donation expert Vinay Kumaran, M.D., as living liver surgical director. Kumaran’s resume includes more than 700 living liver donor cases. David Bruno, M.D., surgical director of adult and pediatric liver transplantation, also joined the program in 2019.

In addition, Layla Kamal, M.D., transplant nephrologist at the Hume-Lee Transplant Center, was named the center’s first living donor medical director. In this role, Kamal helps share the importance of living donation while overseeing stringent safety protocols for all living kidney donors.

In both liver and kidney transplantation, living donation offers a number of advantages, such as getting a patient transplanted faster. The organ from a living donor is often healthier and so are recipients, since they don’t have to spend as much time waiting for an organ. In addition, live donors add organs to the donor pool, increasing the number of transplants possible each year amid a national organ shortage.

Expanded donor criteria increases donor potential434 total transplants in 2019 graphic

VCU Health’s commitment to expand organ access is among the institution’s unique approaches to overcoming the severe organ shortage. The safe and effective transplantation of hepatitis C kidneys reflects the institution’s innovative mindset, according to Gaurav Gupta, M.D., medical director of Hume-Lee’s kidney and pancreas transplant program.

Every patient is different, Gupta explained. What may be an underperforming kidney for one patient may be the perfect match for another, when considering all factors. This, coupled with a cutting-edge team that excels in treating complex cases, helps save as many lives as possible.

Compassionate care leads to donor/recipient success

“VCU is the place for transplantation,” Gupta said. “We treat patients as family.”

Living kidney donor Glenn Hudson agrees. In 2019, the Chesterfield County resident donated his right kidney to someone in need and wanted to thank the transplant team who made his gift possible. Hudson hand-delivered 150 copies of a thank-you letter he wrote to staff at the main VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center clinic and the abdominal inpatient transplant unit.

“Your family never skipped a beat,” he wrote. “They immediately started to make sure I felt welcomed and made sure that I began to get everything I needed and I knew this was happening to my plus one as well, but none of you cared that we had nothing to offer you back for your kindness and extreme hard work. It was at that moment, my weakest and most vulnerable time, that I realized in my foggy haze, that this was no ordinary family.

“[Y]ou are doing something that cannot be bought or programmed to do. You are sharing your kindness, love, compassion, care, generosity, knowledge, blood-sweat-tears, but most of all, you are giving of yourselves for the healing of another human, at their weakest time and that cannot be easy.”

As VCU Health’s transplant center begins 2020, it looks forward providing another year of exceptional care. To find out how you can help save lives, tell your family of your desire to donate or become a living donor, like Hudson.