Last week, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) received final approval from the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a Kidney Transplant Center. There are currently only four centers within VA that perform kidney transplantation for Veterans (Iowa, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Oregon).
“Currently, we are training and hiring staff, analyzing patient data for transplant suitability, and putting medical processes in place. We believe we will perform our first kidney transplant in 12 to 18 months,” said Samir S. Awad, M.D., MEDVAMC Operative Care Line executive, who is listed as one of the best doctors in the nation in the field of critical care medicine. “Once our program matures, we estimate our Kidney Transplant Center will perform 40 to 60 transplants a year, limited only by the availability of organs.”
With the prevalence of chronic kidney disease among Veterans, an increasing number are being referred to the existing VA kidney transplant centers. There are an estimated 8,000 Veterans with chronic kidney disease within 400 miles of Houston; 75 Veterans are currently on waiting lists at local community hospitals. In addition to southeast Texas, the MEDVAMC’s new Kidney Transplant Center will serve Veterans throughout the southeastern United States.
Kidney transplant candidates must undergo detailed physical, laboratory and psychological evaluations to ensure proper selection and therapy. Tests are done to confirm the diagnosis, and to assess the candidate’s ability to tolerate surgery.
“A couple of the key reasons the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center was selected to become a Kidney Transplant Center are our outstanding surgery program, our talented, top-notch staff, and our successful Liver Transplant Program,” said Adam C. Walmus, M.H.A., M.A., F.A.C.H.E., MEDVAMC director.
Managed by the surgical director of the MEDVAMC Liver Transplant Program, John A. Goss, M.D., F.A.C.S., the goal of the new Kidney Transplant Center is to provide the same high level of care to the Veteran population. Goss has performed many surgical "firsts" in Houston, including the first split liver adult and pediatric transplants, the first adult living donor liver transplant, the first dual organ lung-liver transplant, and the first dual organ heart-liver transplant. He is also a professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, chief of the Division of Abdominal Transplantation at Baylor College of Medicine, and the program director of the liver transplant programs at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, The Methodist Hospital, and Texas Children's Hospital.
The MEDVAMC launched its Liver Transplant Program in 2007; 44 successful transplantations have been performed to date without complications. Many patients with liver disease also develop renal failure as their disease progresses. Having the ability to perform kidney transplantation eliminates the need to refer Veterans facing this added complication to another medical facility; thus, improving overall quality of care.
The VA National Transplant Program started providing solid organ transplants to Veterans in 1961. Thomas E. Starzl, M.D. performed VA’s first kidney transplant at the VA medical center in Denver. Since then, the VA National Transplant Program has expanded services to provide Veterans with heart transplant services in 1980, bone marrow in 1982, liver in 1989, and lung in 1991. Most transplants are performed in specific VA medical centers across the country. VA also utilizes several VA sharing agreements with University affiliates and local emergency contracts for critical heart and liver cases.