The key to success is the choice of transplant program, but experience and commitment to the continuum of care are crucial.
For the more than 100,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, an organ transplant can literally be a matter of life and death — in fact, every day 17 people die waiting for an organ.
“A donated organ is often a lifelong benefit,” says John A. Goss, M.D., chief of abdominal transplantation at Baylor College of Medicine. “Someone goes from being on the verge of dying and next thing you know, you get to live 20, 30 more years — in pediatric transplantation, even longer.”
The greatest gift
Dr. Goss calls organ donation the “ultimate gift” and notes the psychological and emotional benefits involved. “A living donor may donate a part of an organ or one organ, and they may feel very good about that,” he says. “With a donation from someone who has suddenly died, for the grieving family it may be the only thing that they feel good about at the end.”
Whether the organ being donated is from a living volunteer or a recently deceased donor, at the top transplant programs, like The Transplant Center at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, the process is rigorous. The viability of the donor’s organs is ascertained through laboratory and radiographic data as well as testing for transmittable diseases, and living donors are given psychological evaluations as well.
Continuum of care
Factors that should be taken into consideration when evaluating transplant programs include the size of the program and its level of experience performing transplants. “With greater experience comes the ability to take care of any complications,” Dr. Goss notes. “Look up the board certifications, see if they’ve been publishing papers.”
For example, the Heart Transplant Program at Baylor St. Luke’s has a storied history that dates back more than 50 years — Dr. Denton A. Cooley performed the first successful heart transplant there in 1968. “Baylor St. Luke’s is important as a transplant center because it really provides all three of the most important missions,” Dr. Goss explains. “Research, clinical patient care, and education. It’s like three legs of a stool: without one, it topples over. The hospital administration is devoted to making sure that we have the resources, and we do research to stay current. We have multiple members of our transplant teams that serve on United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) committees and American Society of Transplant Surgery committees. And we’re training the next generation of healthcare providers for transplant.”
Another factor is the program’s partnerships with organ procurement organizations (OPOs). Although UNOS prioritizes organs according to disease severity and proximity to the hospital, working with local partners is crucial to a transplant program’s success. “We end up working with a number of different organ procurement organizations,” Dr. Goss explains. “But we have our local OPO, which is LifeGift here in Houston.”
One of the key features of any transplant program is continuum of care. “Once you’re a transplant patient, you’re always a transplant patient,” Dr. Goss says. “You may save a patient’s life with the transplant, but there are changes for the rest of their life. Medications, follow-up, the care of the organ, potential involvement with the donor or donor family. The continuum of care goes on forever.”
Dr. Goss believes the choice of transplant center is crucial for both the donors and the organ recipients. “This is in many ways, a lifelong agreement,” he notes. “You need to have a team you really feel comfortable with, and the entire hospital has to be set up to provide all the services that you will need. Because those services are more extensive than what you’ll typically need for routine medical or surgical care.”
For more information about the transplant program at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, please visit stlukeshealth.org.