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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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DeBakey VA Performs First Liver Transplant

December 10, 2007

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Liver transplant patient Michael Abshire, a 63 year-old, U.S. Navy veteran from Webster, Tx. poses with (from left) David H. Berger, M.D., MEDVAMC Operative Care Line Executive; John A. Goss, M.D., Chief, Division of Abdominal Transplantation at Baylor College of Medicine; Ralph G. Depalma, M.D., VA National Director of Surgery; and Donna Jackson, R.N.-C., Liver Transplant Clinical Coordinator. Abshire was released home on December 6, 2007. Photo: Bobbi Gruner, MEDVAMC Public Affairs Officer


HOUSTON – A 63 year-old, U.S. Navy veteran from Webster, Tx. has become the first patient to undergo orthotopic liver transplantation at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC). The surgery, which took place on November 30, represents a milestone locally in the field of organ transplantation and provides end-stage liver disease veterans with state-of-the-art care.

"The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center’s program for the treatment of liver disease is among the most advanced in the country. Given that we provide excellent care for veterans with end stage liver disease preoperatively and postoperatively, the ability to now meet their transplantation surgical needs is a tremendous advantage," said David H. Berger, M.D., MEDVAMC Operative Care Line executive.

Partnering with John A. Goss, M.D., Chief, Division of Abdominal Transplantation at Baylor College of Medicine, the goal of the MEDVAMC Liver Transplant Center is to provide the highest level of care to the veteran population.

The surgery on Michael Abshire, who suffers from end-stage liver disease, was performed by the MEDVAMC Liver Transplant Team. After the 3-hour operation and 6 days on MEDVAMC’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Abshire's new liver is functioning perfectly well, Berger said.

A Vietnam veteran who served aboard the U.S.S. Bon Homme Richard, Abshire said he and his family are most grateful for the care he received at MEDVAMC and for the availability of the donor organ that saved his life.

"I am alive today because of this hospital, because of these wonderful doctors and nurses and everyone else involved in the transplant program, and most importantly, because of the gift of life that was bestowed to me from an organ donor and their family. I feel incredibly blessed," said Abshire.

“Two main reasons the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center was selected to become a Liver Transplant Center are our award-winning surgery program and our strong ties with other member hospitals of the Texas Medical Center,” said Edgar L. Tucker, MEDVAMC director. “I would particularly like to point out the contributions of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. The management and staff there encouraged and supported our Liver Transplant Team to observe their surgical procedures and intensive care unit processes, shadow their transplant experts, and learn every aspect about their remarkably successful transplant program.”

Goss said Abshire will now receive the standard post-transplant care regimen, including serial monitoring of liver function and immunosuppressive medication levels. The patient will require life-long follow-up at MEDVAMC's Liver Transplant Center for routine diagnostic follow up.

The MEDVAMC received official designation as a Liver Transplant Center from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the United Network for Organ Sharing. It joins Portland, Oregon; Nashville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Richmond, Virginia VA Medical Centers offering liver transplantation to veterans as standard of care for end-stage liver disease.

The VA National Transplant Program began providing solid organ transplants to veteran patients in 1961. Thomas E. Starzl, M.D. performed the VA’s first kidney transplant at the VA Medical Center in Denver. Since then, the VA National Transplant Program has expanded services to provide veteran patients with heart transplant services in 1980, bone marrow in 1982, liver in 1989, and lung in 1991.  Most transplants are performed in-house in specific VA medical centers across the country. VA also utilizes several VA sharing agreements with university affiliates and local emergency contracts for critical cases.

In 1995, a national VA transplant office was established in Washington, D.C. to ensure all veterans received equal access to transplant services and establish a central referral center. A computerized database was developed and currently, there are over 12,000 transplant records maintained in the national VA transplant database dating back to 1995.  The VA National Transplant Program office receives approximately 1,200 referrals per year. Approximately 350 transplants are performed annually.  

Liver transplant candidates must undergo detailed physical, laboratory and psychological evaluations to ensure proper selection and therapy. Tests are done to confirm the diagnosis of end-stage liver disease, to rule out other potential treatments, and to assess the candidate’s ability to tolerate surgery. 

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