Most of us have little contact with our transplant teams. We meet the surgeon and perhaps a coordinator but very few others and once the transplant surgery is over, we are generally turned over to other specialists to follow our recovery.
Transplant teams are in the life saving business and while it is a hectic life it can be intensely rewarding. You might have wondered exactly what a transplant team does. Well, there’s not enough space or time here to go into great detail but I found this account of one day in the life of a transplant team fascinating. I hope you do, too.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A LIVER TRANSPLANT TEAM
BY MARY ANN LITTELL
At age 57, Morristown resident Dagoberto Alvarado looked much older, a result of the devastating illness he’d been battling. It left him pale and weak, vomiting and losing weight. In February he was diagnosed with advanced cirrhosis. His physician advised him to go straight to the liver transplant center at University Hospital (UH): “They will save your life.”
At UH, Alvarado was evaluated and put on the liver transplant list. On March 10, he received a new liver in a grueling 12-hour operation. The next morning, his wife was amazed to find him sitting up in his hospital bed, eating a light breakfast. “I couldn’t believe the transformation in my husband — in less than a day,” she said.
“There are only two liver transplant programs in New Jersey. We are the first and the largest,” says Baburao Koneru, MD, chief of liver transplant and hepatobiliary surgery at UH and professor of surgery at New Jersey Medical School (NJMS). He launched the program in 1989 and that year, 15 transplants were performed. Since then, Koneru and his team have transplanted more than 1,000 livers, currently averaging 45 to 50 transplants a year. One-quarter of these patients have liver cancer. Other major reasons for liver transplantation include hepatitis C, alcoholic cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis, Wilson’s disease and other serious disorders. The team also performs approximately 150 major liver operations annually.
The program is organized around a multidisciplinary team that includes surgeons, hepatologists, physician assistants, social workers, a psychiatrist with expertise in transplant issues, and financial coordinators to help navigate the maze of payment and reimbursement. Nurse coordinators (pre- and post-op) serve as the liaison between the transplant team and patients, overseeing the logistics of surgery and recovery.
A typical day with the medical/surgical team includes much more than surgery. This group is all about sharing knowledge and technical skills with residents, fellows, medical students, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists and other hospital colleagues, on rounds and at weekly meetings and conferences. “There are many key players,” says Koneru. “Teamwork is what makes this program so successful.”
The day begins early with a radiology conference where the team evaluates the X-rays of many patients, identifying those who might benefit from a clinical trial or liver transplant. Patients are referred to the UH program from throughout the state. “We’re known for our excellent outcomes,” says Koneru.
Above left: Samanta and Koneru on rounds, which are attended by residents, medical students, social workers, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, dietitians and others. Above right: Koneru discusses patient histories with Michelle Wilkins, MD (left), NJMS’09, an intern at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and UH hepatology fellow Eleazer Yousefzaden, MD.
The team checks on Dagoberto Alvarado, now three days post-transplant. Dramatically improved, he’ll soon be heading home. Patients can wait for months on the transplant list — or in the case of Alvarado, be fortunate enough to secure a liver within a few weeks. “He might not have made it otherwise,” says his wife. The length of time a patient spends on the waiting list depends on many factors, among them the severity of their illness and the availability of donated organs.
NJMS students may take clinical electives in a variety of specialty areas, including hepatology. This offers opportunities for collaborative learning from those in other health professions. It’s also a chance for students to ‘try out’ a specialty and experience first-hand what it’s like to be an active member of a medical team. Left: Cynthia Quainoo, MD, transplant hepatology fellow, discusses patient management with Samanta.
Above Left: Patient Jamie Feireria was admitted to UH with cirrhosis of the liver and a severe rash (a common complication of liver disease). “I gained 30 pounds in one month,” she says. The physicians order tests to find out why. Above Right: Arun Samanta, MD, is professor of medicine at NJMS and chief of hepatology and transplant medicine at UH. The UH liver unit accommodates patients who are potential transplant candidates; those who are listed for transplant and await a donor organ; and those with severe liver disease — for example, acute liver failure, metabolic liver disease, advanced liver disease complicated with acute kidney failure, or drug-induced liver injury — who require care but do not need a transplant.
Patient Alita Cruz has hepatitis C and has been on the transplant list for four weeks. She was admitted to UH when a liver became available, but unfortunately, the organ wasn’t in transplantable condition. Her wait for a donor liver continues.
FRONT ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT : GEORGE MAZPULE, MD, SURGICAL RESIDENT; BABURAO KONERU,MD; ARUN SAMANTA, MD.
MIDDLE ROW: ELISABETE DASILVA, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT; EDITH MENCHAVEZ, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; MARIA DEALMEIDA, FINANCIAL COORDINATOR; VALERIE BROOKS, SECRETARY; HELEN EDUJARDIN, PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR; MALIHA AHMAD, MD, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE; CONNIE MUNOZ, PATIENT NAVIGATOR/REFERRALS COORDINATOR; ESTHER CALADO-ALIGMAYO, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; THOMAS LYNCH, MD, SURGICAL RESIDENT; MARLENE ANDRADE, MEDICAL ASSISTANT; FELMA IZAR, FINANCIAL COORDINATOR; ADITI PATEL, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT; DOROTHY O’HARE, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; MAUREEN HESTER, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR ;ELOISA LAUDATO-HUFALAR, RN, NURSE COORDINATOR; IONA MONTEIRO, MD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRIC GASTROENTEROLOGY.
BACK ROW: GEOFFREY KOIZUMI, DATA SYSTEMS MANAGER; JACQUELINE O’BRYANT-TRAVIS, PROGRAM ASSISTANT; FONDA STEWART, MEDICAL ASSISTANT; LATONIA BALDWIN, MEDICAL ASSISTANT ;CARLO OPONT, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT; ADRIAN FISHER, MD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR/TRANSPLANT SURGEON; AND DORIAN WILSON, MD, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR/TRANSPLANT SURGEON.
Transplanting an organ is not unlike staging a large, complex opera. There is so much drama — some of it life and death. The starring players — physicians, patients, nurses and myriad support staff — often face obstacles and conflict. There’s the quest for a ‘holy grail’— in this case, a healthy liver.
The group of people pictured above makes it happen at University Hospital. “Most patients are referred by their physicians, but some people find us by themselves,” says UH nurse coordinator Maureen Hester. “When they come here, they’re frightened. They expect to go on the transplant list right away, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Patients are first examined to determine whether they are transplant candidates. The workup includes evaluation by transplant hepatologists and surgeons, cardiologists, social workers and dietitians. A psychiatric workup includes support for patients and evaluation for drug and alcohol abuse – both primary factors in hepatitis C infection. Transplant candidates with alcohol or drug-related illness must agree to give up these substances completely. Their names will not go on the waiting list until they complete six months of sobriety.
Those who are accepted into the program go on a national waiting list until a liver becomes available. Statistical formulas are used to predict which patients’ are in the greatest need of a new liver and they are placed higher on the list. Patients’ placement on the list changes as their health status changes.
The wait for a liver can be days, weeks, or months. It’s part of the drama. When the call finally comes that a liver is available, the patient and the team are ready. And in the best-case scenario, there is a happy ending,
Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.
You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.
Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.
If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to email@example.com and usually you will get a copy the same day.
Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.