U conducts multi-organ transplants

By and

The U Hospital can now perform kidney and pancreas transplants at the same time, which doctors say will make performing transplants on diabetic patients easier.

“For diabetic patients, if you have a kidney transplant by itself, the kidney will eventually become a diabetic kidney again,” said Jason Schwartz, a professor of transplant surgery at the U.

Schwartz and his partner, John Sorenson, were brought to the U Hospital to initiate liver and pancreas transplants.

The new multi-organ transplant program became accredited in December 2006 and performed its first kidney-pancreas transplant on a severely diabetic patient this summer.

Pancreas transplants have been shown to prevent and reverse some of the “end-organ manifestations of diabetes.”

“A pancreas-kidney transplant can obviate a (diabetic) person’s need to constantly check blood sugar levels and stick themselves with needles daily, because the kidney will not become sick again, thanks to the new pancreas,” Schwartz said.

Some patients have diabetes so severely that they are unaware of their blood sugar levels, Schwartz said.

“When people administer insulin they don’t know if their blood sugar is too high or too low — they can have seizures and (cause) car accidents if (their) blood sugar gets too low,” he said.

However, multi-organ transplant surgery can be risky. The human body naturally rejects transplanted organs. Before surgery, a patient’s immune system must be weakened with immunosuppressive drugs which can cause worse damage than diabetes itself.

Having several transplants at once is safer for patients than having multiple surgeries partly because their immune system is weakened by one surgery.

“When a patient has liver and kidney failure at the same time and they are able to receive the organs from the same donor, it simplifies what the immune system has to go through,” said Fuad Shihab, a medical director of the transplant program and a professor of nephrology at the U.

Anthony Petersen, a first year medical student, said that multiple organ surgery is good, because so many patients have multiple organ failures, and infection can easily occur in surgery.

“The more surgeries a person has to undergo, the more risk of infections and complications there is,” he said.

Surgeons estimate they will likely perform anywhere between 20 to 25 kidney-pancreas transplants each year.

The U has one of the shortest waiting lists for kidney organs in the country.

“Patients at our center are able to get organ transplants in a fraction of the time, especially compared to nationwide statistics,” Schwartz said.

Last year, 4,300 people on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant died.

“We can’t do more than one transplant surgery every two weeks because it’s so hard to get a good pancreas organ, one in an ideal condition from a healthy donor,” Schwartz said.

The U hospital has been able to perform all types of organ transplant surgeries since December 2006 — liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung and bone marrow.

Shihab said he believes that being able to perform all types of organ transplants will give the transplant center a good reputation.

“The more complex procedures that we can perform here puts the U on the map as part of the forefront of transplantation,” he said.

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