On Sept. 25, 2012, CAMC’s Kidney Transplant Center reached a medical milestone when its 1,000th transplant was performed. The recipient was 32-year-old Zachariah Westfall from Grantsville, WV.
“This was Zachariah’s third kidney transplant. He received his first transplant when he was 18 years old,” said S. Jeff Chueh, MD, the transplant surgeon who performed his operation. “His new kidney began working immediately, and he now has normal kidney function and is no longer dialysis dependent.”
The first kidney transplant at CAMC was performed on Sept. 29, 1987, by Dr. Ernest Hodge, the program’s founder, in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Novick, the late Chairman of Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute of Cleveland Clinic. Since then, the hospital has transplanted patients as young as 14 months.
“Because we are the only hospital in the state performing kidney transplants, hundreds of patients with end-stage renal disease depend on us for a better quality of life,” Chueh said.
CAMC’s transplant program was created thanks to the vision of many people who recognized the need for a transplant center in Charleston. In addition to Drs. Novick and Hodge, some of the program’s founders included Dr. Mary Lou Lewis, Dr. Bobbie L. Caldwell, Dr. Tom McCoy, administrator Mike Williams, and COO Jim Crews. The program has sustained and grown over the past 25 years due to the dedication of physicians such as Drs. Bashir Sankari, Lawrence Wyner and John Rabets.
“Without this program, people needing life-saving kidney transplants would have to travel out of state, distancing them from the critical support of family and friends and requiring them to travel long distances for treatment and care, while some might not be able to receive a transplant at all,” Chueh said.
The Kidney Transplant Center, which is part of the hospital’s comprehensive renal services, is a collaborative effort between CAMC and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The success of the program is a combined effort of a highly-skilled team that includes transplant coordinators, pharmacists, dietitians, social workers, tissue typing technicians, nursing staff, OR staff, nephrologists and surgeons, as well as strong support from hospital administration.
"We have made significant advances in transplantation since performing our first transplant 25 years ago," Chueh said. "We are one of a very few centers that offer laparoscopic single port living donor nephrectomy, which allows for quicker recovery for the donor. The benefit for the recipient is decreased wait time and the kidney typically works immediately.”
The first few weeks and months following a kidney transplant are filled with numerous appointments to monitor vital signs and kidney function, as well as adjusting medications. It is very important that recipients be compliant with their immunosuppressive medications to keep the kidneys functioning well.
The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients reports that the survival rate of CAMC patients one year after transplant is 98.7 percent, compared to 96.96 percent that would be expected based on the characteristics of these patients.
“We have had excellent results,” said Bashir Sankari, MD, medical director of CAMC’s renal transplant program. “Our one-year patient and graft survival rate is on par with the national average.”
To sustain a transplant program for over two decades, a population of patients with kidney disease is needed, along with a large infrastructure to support those patients.
“Most transplant programs are centered in urban environments and large tertiary care centers, which is a huge disadvantage for patients who live in rural parts of the country," said Mike Williams, vice president/administrator of CAMC General Hospital. “Research shows the further you live away from a transplant program, the less likely you are to get a transplant, which is what makes our center so critical to the people of West Virginia and its surrounding communities.”
Recipients on the United Network of Organ Sharing deceased donor list can wait anywhere from six months to five years for a transplant. Some patients that have living donors available choose that option instead of waiting on the list.
Currently, there are 144 adult and pediatric patients on the waiting list to receive a transplant at CAMC, with more than 500 being evaluated.