UA Surgeons Perform Record 100th Abdominal Transplant of the Year

100th abdominal transplant of 2008 at University Medical Center

Transplant surgeons at The University of Arizona reached a milestone Nov. 12 when they performed the 100th abdominal transplant of 2008 at University Medical Center. This is the most transplants of kidney, liver and pancreas organs UMC ever has done in one year. Last year, the hospital performed 62 abdominal transplants and 49 in 2006.

For patient Dale Charnick, whose living-related kidney transplant was the 100th procedure, it was a gift of life. The retired 64-year-old’s new kidney was donated by her 35-year-old hairdresser, Elizabeth Littlefield. Both are from the Tucson area.

The rise in transplants occurred in part because “of the commitments of the Departments of Surgery and Medicine, and The University of Arizona College of Medicine and University Medical Center to develop and support an efficient and successful transplant team,” said Rainer Gruessner, MD, chief of abdominal transplant and chairman of the UA Department of Surgery.

In addition, new approaches for increasing living donor kidney transplants and using extended criteria for organs from deceased donors are expanding the pool of organs available. Moreover, the new team also is focused on increasing the number of transplants for extrarenal abdominal organs, specifically the liver and pancreas. “As the waiting list continues to grow for people needing organ transplantation, these approaches are saving lives,” Dr. Gruessner said.

Dr. Gruessner performed Charnick’s transplant surgery, and Michael Nguyen, MD, assistant professor of surgery, UA Department of Surgery Section of Urology, performed the laparoscopic donor nephrectomy (minimally invasive kidney removal). The complex procedures went smoothly, and while Charnick still is recovering in the hospital, Littlefield was discharged the following day.

When Charnick’s family members were unable to donate because she had preformed antibodies against their antigens (a condition that could increase the likelihood of rejection), Littlefield stepped forward to help. Remarkably, her blood-type was a match. “The chance of her becoming a match was extremely low,” said Charnick. “Elizabeth is truly a hero.”

The milestone firmly establishes that the UMC Abdominal Transplant Program is on its way to becoming one of the nation’s busiest. To date, 70 kidney transplants, 20 liver transplants and 13 pancreas transplants have been performed just since January. Members of the surgical abdominal transplant team include Drs. Gruessner, John Renz and John Hughes. The medical team includes Drs. Bruce Kaplan (kidney, pancreas), Thomas Boyer (liver) and Khalid Khan (liver and intestine).
Current initiatives include starting an islet cell transplant program and an intestine transplant program in 2009.