Through generous gifts from donors and their families, the Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Program just performed their 3,000th kidney transplant since the program began in 1983.
The 3,000th transplant was one of 195 organ transplants – a new record – performed in 2019 by the Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Program.
“This milestone of 3,000 transplants is directly related to the increased number of organs from both deceased and living donors,” says Diane Alonso, MD, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s abdominal transplant program, based at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. “The generosity of these donors and their families has given so many new leases on life.”
When 39-year-old Jeffrey Willis of Sandy, Utah, was told he was the 3,000th transplant patient he said, “It’s my lucky number.”
And he says that’s a number he can live with since he no longer needs to track his glucose and insulin numbers.
For almost 20 years, as a type 1 diabetic, Willis has had to track his blood sugar and make adjustments or face dangerous complications. But despite his best efforts, last year his kidney function decreased to just 10%. As a result, he had no energy, could not sleep, and had trouble working. He was put on the national organ transplant waiting list.
Willis says his lucky number was called, and he received a new kidney and pancreas on November 5, 2019, at Intermountain Medical Center.
Just two months later, he says he feels like he’s won the lottery, and is making every day count.
The Intermountain Transplant Program, which serves patients from throughout the nation, also had a record-breaking year for the number of kidney and liver transplants – performing 130 kidney transplants and 53 liver transplants – the greatest number of liver transplants ever performed from a single center in Utah.
In total, Intermountain Transplant surgeons performed 195 transplants.
- 130 kidneys
- 4 kidney/pancreas
- 53 liver
- 12 Heart
During a celebration, doctors shared some of the innovations they’ve implemented to provide more people life-saving treatments.
“Our transplant team not uncommonly accepts organs that other programs may not be able to transplant,” said Richard Gilroy, MD, director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Liver Transplantation Program. “We take offers of livers, including ones infected with hepatitis C, because we can cure them of that disease, and it gives our patients back their quality of life they deserve.”
Dr. Alonso attributes this record-breaking year to a number of reasons:
- Aggressive acceptance criteria for organs
- More living donors willing to donate a kidney or partial liver
- Teamwork and partnership with DonorConnect, which facilitates, coordinates, registers, and advocates for donors throughout the Intermountain West
- Joining the National Kidney Registry
- New technology and innovations – including participation in research studies
- Implementing a fast-track program for those on the waiting list for an organ
Donald Richardson, a 57-year-old ROTC teacher from St. George, Utah, is one of those recipients who benefited from this fast-track program.
Last May, with no family history of kidney disease and no other health issues, Richardson landed in the emergency room at Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center where doctors discovered his kidney function had dropped to 13%.
The transplant team evaluated Richardson July 5, 2019, and by August 20, 2019, Richardson had a new kidney.
That kidney came from an unlikely source – a man he had met 40 years ago.
Richardson and John Evans met playing basketball the first day of college their freshman year at Brigham Young University. They ended up living in the same dorms and through the years stayed in contact, playing a round of golf every once in a while.
When the doctor’s told Richardson he would need a transplant, it was Evans’ name that came to mind. He texted him and asked him his blood type. Evans immediately responded and said, “O+, Why?”
Richardson didn’t think you could ask your friend in a text message for a kidney, so he called him.
With no hesitation, Evans said, “Yes!”
Evans ended up being a nearly perfect match. Doctors even told Evans due to the size and health of his kidney, it was one of the easiest transplants they had performed.
“John not only gave me a kidney, he gave me a GREAT kidney,” says Richardson. “How do you repay someone for that? Be grateful and make sure nothing happens to it!”
Richardson says he now looks forward to his new lease on life and backpacking with his family.
Evans says he hopes Richardson’s golf game improves because he now has his kidney.
Nearly 40,000 transplants were performed across the United States in 2019, making it the seventh consecutive record-breaking year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Currently 112,752 people still need a lifesaving organ transplant. Here in Utah, 778 people are on the list for a new organ.
“One organ donor can save up to nine lives,” said Dr. Alonso. “These organ donors are the most generous and unselfish people. They inspire me and they push our team to make improvements so we can help more patients get back to life and to their families.”
Transplant patients, family members and caregivers encourage all to say, “Yes!” and register as an organ donor. Register at intermountainhealthcare.org/donatelife.