Kidney Transplant 40th Anniversary – The Nebraska Medical Center


In high school, I was always sick. It was
very hard to do school when you’re tired all the time, you tried diet medications.
But my kidney functions just kept getting worse. A senior in high school is when I started
on dialysis and that was very hard for me to accept. It’s very grueling and the first
time you see that thing, it’s just like a monster. I had swollen up so bad with fluids
that the first day I was on dialysis for six hours, they took 14 pounds off of me (that
was just fluid weight). Transplantation, they had never heard of that. I’d never heard
of it. I had no idea what to expect. The kidney transplant program began 40 years
ago and for those people who recall what 40 years ago was like in transplantation (that
would’ve been 1970). In 1970, people with chronic renal failure suffered a lot. Forty years ago, they only transplanted those
people that were the best candidates. They didn’t have a lot of other medical problems.
They were young, they were otherwise healthy. Their only problem was that they had kidney
disease. I was fortunate within three months they called
me for the transplant. I had just graduated from high school. It was June 4th, 1974. When Viola was transplanted, it was very common
for people to be in the hospital for a long time. I was almost two months before I could go
home and my family couldn’t come see me for at least the first three weeks. Patients were told they could expect to be
in the hospitals for weeks or even months at a time after the transplant procedure.
Now our length to say averages about four days. Patients back then were in isolation, their
family was limited, they weren’t allowed to sit (they could only lay or stand). Around the mid 1980s, new staff showed up;
tremendous innovations occurred in transplantation. And the program has really began to really
evolve and explode. As transplant has grown, as our physicians
have gained more experience, as medications have improved, we’re able to transplant
people who fall outside of those perfect parameters. We see people with heart disease, we see people
who previously had cancer. The key for kidney in the future is really
our goal to get more people transplanted. There is an epidemic of chronic renal failure
in the United States. And there’s no question that people on dialysis don’t do nearly
as well as those patients who can benefit from transplantation. Dialysis is clearly an important therapy.
It can keep people alive who would otherwise die of kidney failure. But over time, it can
be hard on the body, hard on the blood vessels and the heart. What studies have consistently
shown is that patients who receive a kidney transplant and therefore get off dialysis
can expect to live longer. They also generally report a better quality of life if you’re
interested in healthcare economics. It costs less to take care of people who get a kidney
transplant. We encourage essentially all of our kidney transplant candidates to investigate
whether there’s a potential living donor available. And most of our kidney transplants are living
donations. Which means that a family member or friend or even at times stranger can donate
a kidney to someone who needs one. And we’re now able to do that through minimally invasive
surgery through the laparoscope. And essentially these people only need an incision in their
side large enough so that we can actually remove the kidney from the body. That alone
has revolutionized the entire landscape of kidney transplantation. Our program is very strong because we have
tremendous support; we have good neurologists throughout the city and throughout the state.
They make timely referrals for their patients, looking out for the best interests of their
patients. It takes a lot of people to do kidney transplants. It takes surgeons and neurologists
and infectious diseases and GI folks and coordinators and mid-levels. The list just goes on and
on. And we have all the pieces that it takes to take care of those patients. All the pieces are in place here at Nebraska
for true transplant center, not just a physician who can manage medicine or a surgeon who can
do the operation. We’re much more cutting-edge. We do blood type incompatibles. We’re doing
all of these switches, we can have three different people who want to donate into three different
family members and they can all swap kidneys so that all these three people who ordinarily
wouldn’t match can all benefit from kidney transplantation. We’re doing antibody reduction for those
people who have developed antibodies against foreign tissues. We transplant; if somebody’s
had two transplants, we’ll consider them for a third. When we’ve started to do more and more outreach,
recognizing that we transplant patients commonly who live anywhere from 4 to 8 hours drive
away, with the thought being if we take a surgeon and a physician and a couple nurses
to a clinic four or five hours west of Omaha, we can save a lot of people a lot of driving,
a lot of effort, provide a more personal service to them and we get good feedback every time
we go to an outreach clinic. We’ve been very fortunate to recruit and
retain some of the finest physicians from throughout the United States and combine them
with a phenomenal staff who allows us to the really cool stuff that we’re here to do.
At its core, we all do what we do for what’s really important and that’s our ability
to take these desperately ill patients (dying patients) and give them a second chance at
life. Those transplant reunions are probably way
more emotional for the staff than the patients will ever know. And when I leave from that
reunion, my cup is running over; it is very exciting the fact that she still has a functioning
kidney (it’s amazing, it’s wonderful). I’ve been very fortunate I’ve not had
any problems; very fortunate.

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