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The gift of life is alive and well in Utah: Thanks to generous donors and families, new innovations and resources, and the dedication of transplant clinicians, the Intermountain Medical Center Transplant Program had a record year in 2017.
Last year, Intermountain Medical Center, which serves patients from throughout the nation, performed a record number of liver transplants, finishing 2017 with 52 liver transplants — the greatest number of liver transplants ever performed from a single center in Utah. The previous record at Intermountain Medical Center was 44, set in 2015.
In total, Intermountain Medical Center performed 172 transplants — 98 kidneys, eight kidney/pancreases, 52 livers, and 14 hearts.
“This year has been an amazing year for Utahns on the waiting list for an organ transplant,” says Diane Alonso, MD, director of Intermountain Healthcare's Intermountain Medical Center’s Transplant Program. “We had multiple teams throughout Intermountain Medical Center all working together to give people back their lives and get them back to their families.”
During a celebration, doctors shared some of the innovations they implemented in 2017 to help provide the life-saving treatments to those in need.
“Most people think one liver saves one life,” says Richard Gilroy, MD, director of Intermountain Medical Center’s Liver Transplantation Program. “But the fact is, one liver can be divided into two parts and transplanted into two different patients, thus saving two lives. In only a matter of weeks, the smaller liver portions have regenerated and grown into fully functioning livers.”
Teams are also transplanting livers infected with hepatitis C into patients who don’t have the disease — then curing them of the disease. These diseased organs are often rejected by other centers across the nation, but doctors at Intermountain Medical Center are finding ways to use them to give patients the life-saving treatment, many of whom are on death’s door.
Last year, Intermountain Healthcare’s Life Flight air ambulance program announced a partnership with Intermountain Donor Services for a Cessna Citation/CJ4 jet used to retrieve organs from greater distances, in shorter travel times, thus improving outcomes and options for patients in need.
“Nothing happens in transplant without teamwork,” says Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, MD, Intermountain Medical Center transplant surgeon. “Transplant coordinators, dietitians, surgeons, doctors, OR staff, and community members who are willing to donate organs — we all bring something to the table and contribute to the overall goal of helping people live the healthiest lives possible.”
During the celebration, patients shared their emotional story of transplantation.
“I was just about ready to die. I didn’t have much time left,” said Lynn Steadman, 63, from Raft River, Idaho. He’d been on the waiting list for a liver transplant for so long, doctors were about to take him off the list because his health was worsening beyond the ability to provide a transplant. He received a liver four weeks ago.
“I don’t think I have the words or vocabulary to express how truly thankful I am,” he said.
Nationally, 34,800 organs were transplanted in 2017, which marks the fifth consecutive record-breaking year for organ transplantation, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. There are currently 114,969 people in the United States on the national transplant waiting list for an organ transplant. In Utah, 716 people are on the list.
“When I see our patients several months later, sometimes I don’t recognize them because they’re a new, vibrant, better version of themselves,” says Dr. Alonso. “Being an organ donor is the true essence of generosity, and that inspires me and helps our entire team to work harder to push to find new ways to get our patients transplanted.”
Patients, family members and caregivers encourage everyone to register as an organ donor, because one organ donor can save up to nine lives. Register at YesUtah.org.