Why People Travel to LVHN for Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Surgery
BY TED WILLIAMS
In July, Lehigh Valley Institute for Surgical Excellence will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Kidney Transplant program. It’s been 17 years since its Pancreas Transplant program was initiated. The two programs have grown to become one of the largest and most experienced adult transplant programs in the region (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey). Currently, LVHN does not have a pediatric transplant program.
We spoke with Michael Moritz, MD, who has been Chief, Transplantation Services since 2005, about the evolution of one of the most successful adult transplant programs in the country:
Q: Can you tell us about the history of the program?
Moritz: The first kidney transplant in our program was completed on July 12, 1991. On March 18, 2021, we completed our 1,634th transplant. There’s only one hospital/health care network transplant center in all of Eastern Pennsylvania with more volume, that one at a much larger network in Philadelphia. And we’ve performed more than 1,200 of these transplants in the last 15 years. We have three experienced, highly qualified transplant surgeons and we keep ourselves pretty busy.
Q: Your program rates very high on the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) statistical analysis. How does LVHN’s transplant program achieve such outstanding numbers for surgeries and outcomes?
Moritz: There are several factors involved based on our years of experience and expertise with successful transplants. We will accept good donors, particularly deceased donors, that other centers may not. We also accept more difficult transplant cases, multiple transplants or challenging anatomy for example, that lesser experienced centers can’t chance. Finally, we perform transplants on weekends and holidays where other centers may not.
Consequently, we perform 25 percent of our entire transplant list each year, compared to about 13 percent for all comparable centers locally and nationally. From 2014 to 2019, our median wait time for transplant was about 35 months, compared to 60 months for comparable local centers, 47 months for regional centers and 42 months nationally. Throughout that time period, our success rate has remained extremely high – better than 94 percent.
Q: How have you been able to build your anonymous living donor program?
Moritz: We have a dedicated living donor coordinator, a full-time position, who locates these wonderful people who are willing to help someone they don’t even know. Their amazing humanity allows us to take multiple patients off our list every year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, living donation has been down significantly across the country. Here, we’ve had five anonymous kidney donations since May 2020. That says a lot about the very good people who live here among us.
Q: Can you tell us about your pancreas transplant program?
Moritz: We do two to four pancreas transplants a year, exclusively for people with type 1 diabetes who have significant kidney disease. Usually, they involve a simultaneous pancreas and kidney transplant from the same deceased donor. Sometimes a patient will have a kidney transplant first, often from a living donor, followed by a pancreas transplant that can occur months or even years later. The goal is to eliminate the kidney disease or failure while providing an internal source of self-regulating insulin, which also eliminates the diabetes. There aren’t many centers of any size doing these transplants because these are very difficult cases. Again, because of our years of experience and expertise, we are able to help these patients.
Q: What does life after a kidney transplant look like?
Moritz: You can live a normal life – work, play, travel, do all the things you enjoy – without being tied to a kidney dialysis machine. There is a small risk involved like any surgery, but generally speaking you will live longer and better than you would going without the transplant. The patients who do well are those who are ready, willing, and able to live a lifestyle that involves taking pills twice a day 12 hours apart and getting regular blood tests monthly the first two years, less often after that. That’s all you will need to do for a better and potentially longer life. This is covered by Medicare or any insurance coverage you may have. If you’re a patient who needs regular kidney dialysis treatments, the sooner you get a transplant, the better your life is going to be.
April is Living Donor Month. To learn how to become a living kidney donor at LVHN, visit LVHN.org/transplant.