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5,000 Kidney Transplants – A Bittersweet Celebration

WU Nephrologist, Dr. Rowena Delos Santos, (left) and transplant fellow Dr. Karthik Venkatachalam (far right) share a moment with two kidney transplant recipients.

Left to right are Jason Wellen, MD and Director of Kidney and Pancreatic Transplantation; Dr. Benjamin Humphreys, Chief, Division of Nephrology, Dr. Andrew Malone, Division of Nephrology, Transplant, and Dr. Tarek Alhamad, Division of Nephrology, Interim Medical Director of the Kidney Transplant Program.

The Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital kidney transplant program, one of the largest and oldest in the United States, celebrated a milestone in 2017: The 5,000th patient to receive an adult kidney.

The program began in 1963, with the first living kidney donor transplant performed in 1965. The team generally averages more than 230 kidney transplant surgeries each year: More than half of all the kidney transplants performed in Missouri. In 2017, a record 254 kidney transplant surgeries were performed. Washington University/Barnes-Jewish Hospital is consistently ranked among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report for the treatment of kidney disease and was ranked 9th best hospital for nephrology in the U.S. for 2017-2018.

Members of the Barnes Jewish Hospital kidney transplant team and WU Division of Nephrology, Transplant.

“Each of those transplants has a great story attached to it,” says Tarek Alhamad, MD, Interim Medical Director of the Kidney Transplant Program. “We are thrilled to see patients able to go back to work, continue education, do their favorite sport, run a marathon or travel around the world. Basically, patients get their lives back.”

(left) to Office Coordinator Laura Kipper (right) work to make the kidney transplant program a success.

Dr. Alhamad emphasizes that all the members of the kidney transplant team work together for one purpose – to provide the best patient care to kidney disease patients so that they will enjoy a longer and better life. “This is the philosophy of kidney transplant care at our center.”

The center offers innovative and life-saving treatment options that may not be available elsewhere. This includes the use of long-acting immunosuppression medications that have fewer side effects, which results in better patient adherence. Alhamad points out that the center is one of the few centers to monitor donor-derived cell-free DNA (dd-cfDNA), a sensitive biomarker used to assess graft health in kidney transplant recipients.

Drs. Wellen, Malone, Alhamad and Rowena Delos Santos.

More than 100,000 patients with kidney disease are waiting for a kidney transplant. A living donor kidney transplant provides better survival and avoids what could be a long wait for a decreased organ. In the St. Louis area, the waiting time for a deceased organ is approximately three to four years, whereas it can be up to ten years in other parts of the country.

After an intensive post-transplant follow-up in the transplant clinic, patients are seen once a year for the rest of their lives. Alhamad says it is rewarding when patients come in for their follow-ups and talk about how well their transplants are working, how they enjoy not being tied to dialysis, and how satisfied and grateful they are to be living their new lives. “That is the most exciting thing about our work.”

Nurse Practitioner Helen Wijeweera (left) and Brittany Heady, Physician Assistant.

Mary Myers, Barnes Jewish Hospital, and Dr. Venkatachalam.

Devin Wall and Rachel Cody of WU Nephrology work on kidney transplant clinical trials and studies.

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