Innovative Approaches to Transplants Save More Lives
Waiting for an organ transplant can be agonizing. Patients feel frustration at the long wait for a donor, fear of unpredictable medical procedures and confusion of navigating critical health challenges. But experienced doctors, nurses and medical staff who enable innovative options can help families through these life-changing situations while providing the care and compassion they deserve.
One of the nation’s largest transplant centers supports and empowers patients with novel procedures and extraordinary outcomes with more than 60 years of experience.
Not every transplant patient’s needs are the same. But every patient deserves a medical team that can deliver the right solution at the right time.
Beth Larsen was in desperate need of a kidney. An autoimmune disorder called Goodpasture disease had left her in kidney failure and dependent on dialysis. The dialysis was not enough to control her disease. She needed a kidney transplant—and she was running out of time.
While on the transplant waiting list, Larsen’s doctors at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center suggested an altruistic donor, someone who would donate their kidney – often anonymously. She was skeptical, asking herself who would possibly give their organ to a stranger.
Scott Hopfinger was scrolling through Twitter when he landed on a tweet about two children searching for a kidney for their mother. Immediately, he thought to himself, ‘I can do that.’ After discussing with his wife and son, he went to the National Donate Life Registry to start the process to become a living donor. While he was not a match for the woman on Twitter, he learned there was someone else he could help: Beth Larsen.
Most living donors are offering their kidney to someone they know—a loved one or family member. But even close family members are not always a match. When this happens, the transplant center offers a creative solution: the paired-kidney exchange program. In a kidney exchange, two pairs of prospective donors and recipients are matched together to “exchange” donor kidneys.
The exchange program ended up saving the lives of Pat Conway and Marti Simon. Both Conway and Simon needed kidneys; Conway’s daughter, Kate Turner, hoped to be her mother’s donor but wasn’t a match. Simon’s potential donor, her friend Randi Halpern, learned the same. But the paired-kidney exchange program determined that Turner was a match for Simon, and Halpern a match for Conway.
Living kidney donation is safe for both donors and recipients. Donors typically spend about three days in the hospital for the procedure, and most are back to normal within a few weeks. The transplant center performs comprehensive testing to ensure that anyone cleared to be a living donor can do so without increased risk of mortality or renal failure over the course of their lifetime.
In 2017, Hopfinger and Larsen underwent successful living kidney donations. Six months after the surgery, Larsen sent Hopfinger a letter of thanks.
“Because of you, I now feel better,” she wrote. “Because of you I now have more time with my son. Because of you I no longer have the pain of needles being put in my arm. I have more time. I have more energy. My husband and I can have more children. And I can live my life.”
The experts at the transplant center have performed more living kidney donor transplants than any other program in the Midwest. But what separates the center’s success from others is its effective and compassionate care to both donors and recipients, during and after the transplant process.
For Conway, Turner, Simon and Halpern, the medical team at the transplant center took time to make sure the donors were medically ready—both physically and mentally. Their surgeries were completed successfully in 2019.
The two pairs met the same year at an event held by the transplant center celebrating its 10,000th solid organ transplant.
Extraordinary Care and Connection at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center
There are 92,000 people on the waitlist for a kidney nationwide, and those on the waitlist can wait up to three to five years. The transplant center is the largest in the Midwest, and one of the largest in the country, with approximately 550 transplants taking place annually. Since 1963, the transplant center has performed more than 13,000 solid organ transplants, a milestone achieved by fewer than 10% of programs nationally.
Because the team at the transplant center handles such a high volume of kidney transplants, nearly 6,500 in the past 60 years, they have the experience needed to provide the personalized and specialized care that both donors and recipients deserve. And the outcomes are proof short and long-term organ rejection rates are consistently below the national average, and patients have a shorter average waiting period due to multiple living kidney donor matching options.
The surgeons and nurses at the transplant center are adept in treating complex cases, high-risk patients and multi-organ transplants with innovative technology and compassion. For patients, that means personalized transplant care and an opportunity for a better outcome—which every patient deserves.
Everyone deserves a chance to live their healthiest life. Find out more about the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center and how you can become a living donor at barnesjewish.org/donatelife.