Intermountain Healthcare performed its 5,000th adult solid organ transplant in 2021 and had another record year, thanks to organ donors and their families and a transplant team committed to helping patients receive life-saving organ transplant opportunities despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the third consecutive record-breaking year for the Intermountain Transplant Services team, performing 289 solid organ transplants: which includes kidney (170), pancreas (6), liver (94), and heart (19) transplants.
“COVID may have turned the world upside down, but our transplant team has been creative and worked hard to change a lot of lives in another unprecedented year,” said Diane Alonso, MD, transplant surgeon and medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s abdominal transplant program. “We’re proud of every caregiver at Intermountain Healthcare and the team who worked tirelessly to innovate ways to safely discover additional donor opportunities.”
The 5,000th transplant comes since Intermountain Transplant Services performed Utah’s first solid organ transplant at LDS Hospital when a sister donated one of her kidneys to her brother.
The success of Intermountain’s transplant program, which serves patients throughout the nation, is the result of many multi-disciplinary teams working together.
Here are just a few examples:
- Partnering with the National Kidney Foundation helped make Intermountain a leading program nationally in the Kidney for Life Program, transplanting exceptionally well-matched living kidney donors from a national pool. Intermountain also continues to be the only transplant program in Utah to participate in the paired kidney exchange program.
- The Intermountain transplant program partnered with DonorConnect, the organ procurement agency for Utah and Intermountain West, identifying donors who are often overlooked, then using them successfully with exceptional outcomes.
- Working with community hospitalists, gastroenterologists, nephrologists and intensivists to expand the living organ donor program to be the largest in Utah.
- The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) also reported a record-breaking year. Dec. 17, 2021, the U.S. officially surpassed 40,000 transplants in one year, an historic first for the nation. As of today, 106, 660 men, women and children are on the waiting list for a transplant, which is at the lowest it has been since 2009. In Utah, there are 823 people waiting for an organ, according to UNOS.
Here are just some of the lives that were changed in 2021 due to organ donation at Intermountain, which is based at Intermountain Medical Center:
-- Jesse Davis, 36, North Ogden, Utah: Jesse is a wife, mom to one little girl, and a 6th grade schoolteacher at Midland Elementary. Her students are saying, “Thanks for saving our teacher!”
Thirteen years ago, Jesse was diagnosed with PSC – Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, a rare liver disease that attacks the bile ducts and she was told she would eventually need a liver transplant. She lived in pain until her liver almost gave out and she was placed on the transplant list, Aug. 16, 2020.
The first person to sign up to donate ended up being a match – that life-saving transplant came from a fellow teacher, friend and mentor, Shawna Blamires, who teaches at Orchard Springs Elementary. The two had met 12 years earlier, while teaching at a title one school in downtown Ogden, Utah.
January 5, 2021 surgeons at Intermountain Medical Center, took part of Shawna’s liver and transplanted it into Jesse, who says that’s the day she got her life back.
The two are now advocates for organ transplant, participating in fairs and parades - sharing their life changing stories.
“Life has been so wonderful and fun, and I owe it to Shawna who didn’t wait until she was dead, she donated when it was needed,” said Jesse. “I am a completely different person. I can play with my daughter, I ride my horses everywhere, and I am back teaching full time.”
-- Courtney Harkins, 32, Park City, UT: Courtney is a former competitive downhill skier but when her best friend’s mother, Terry Bargar, was in kidney failure she didn’t hesitate to donate. Although Courtney wasn’t a match, with the help of the NKR paired exchange program she was able to donate to someone in San Francisco, CA while Terry got her new kidney in Boston, Ma.
Just six weeks after surgery Courtney was back on the slopes skiing and is getting ready to head to the Beijing Olympics, working with the U.S. Ski & Snowboard and US Biathlon teams.
“It was so rewarding to not only save a person I love, but to help someone else, too,” said Courtney.
-- Raquita Sanchez, Las Vegas, NV: When Las Vegas Police Department officer Raquita Sanchez entered the hospital with kidney failure and learned she was in desperate need of a transplant, she had no idea her future kidney donor was there in the room with her. Fellow officer Christina Martinez heard the diagnosis and immediately said, “I’ll give her a kidney. What do I have to do?”
After going through all the required evaluating tests, Christina was deemed a good match and almost three years later, surgery was scheduled. Both women traveled to Intermountain Medical Center, for the procedure in July 2021. Both were back home to their families in a couple of weeks.
“My three kids now see a happier, healthier, more energized mom,” said Raquita. “I don’t know how I will ever repay Christina. She gave me my life back.”
“The thought of my kidney making her feel amazing and look so much better and healthier—and able to be there for her family for years and years to come—that’s enough for me,” said Christina.
“Unfortunately, every day 11 or 12 people dies waiting for a kidney transplant,” said Donald Morris, MD, Intermountain’s kidney transplant medical director. “Living kidney donation offers quite a bit of hope for these patients and is really life-changing for them.”
Living donation often allows for transplants sooner and the outcomes are usually better than compared to a deceased donor, said Dr. Morris.
Research shows, on average a living kidney transplant doubles the life expectancy of the recipient. It also greatly improves their quality of life while decreasing their overall health costs.
“In what has been a challenging year for every family, we so appreciate that the community continues to recognize the value through organ donation to save a life,” said Richard Gilroy, MD, transplant hepatologist and Intermountain Healthcare’s liver transplant medical director. “It Is only through these precious gifts that we restore and save lives.”
To learn more about organ donation or register to become an organ donor, go to Intermountainhealthcare.org/donatelife.