Christmas came three weeks early for Lisa McGrath Scott of Columbia, S.C. Her present was a new kidney.
“My husband had asked me awhile back what I wanted for Christmas, and I said, ‘I don’t want anything…just my health back,’ ” said Scott, a health care worker in her late 30s.
When she was diagnosed with kidney failure 10 years ago, Scott was forced to begin dialysis treatments, a procedure in which the blood is cleansed of toxins through a machine, replacing work that the kidneys normally do. “I had to go three times a week,” she said. “It changed my whole life, because I have always been so active. But I got my freedom back now, and I’m excited about all I’ll be able to do again.”
Scott’s operation was the 101st kidney transplant in 2007 for the MCG Health Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program. Besides Emory Healthcare, Children’s Healthcare and Piedmont Hospital, all in Atlanta, MCG Health is the only other medical center in Georgia with a kidney transplant program.
The transplant team finished 2007 with a record 110 kidney transplants, far surpassing its previous high of 88 transplants in 2001, and taking the total to 1,845 since the program began in 1968.
“We’ve been pushing hard to increase the number of people we are helping,” said Dr. James Wynn, Medical Director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, and the surgeon who performed Scott’s transplant. “It’s rewarding for the staff – and especially the patients – to achieve this number.”
“This is a milestone for us,” said Dr. Laura Mulloy, Professor and Chief of the Section of Nephrology, Hypertension and Transplant Medicine. “The whole transplant team has worked really hard at getting folks placed on the waiting list.”
Getting patients listed means entering their information into a national computer registry, called the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). This computer registry is operated by UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing. Currently about 650 MCG Health patients are on the waiting list for a kidney donation.
Fortunately for Scott, one of those 650, she was only on the list for about three years. “It was unexpected to get a kidney so fast,” she said.
“The increase in transplants this year all has to do with the pretty fantastic staff we’ve been able to recruit,” said Dr. Wynn, who until recently was the only kidney transplant surgeon at MCG Medical Center. “We recruited Dr. Todd Merchen in July. With Dr. Merchen here, we are always ready. Our surgical manpower is no longer limited, so we can perform two transplants at the same time.”
But the physicians are just a small part of it, Dr. Wynn said. The transplant team that was once composed of just four or five people, has more than quadrupled over the past several years, to include – besides the two surgeons – two physicians; two pharmacists; two physician’s assistants; five transplant coordinators; a living donor coordinator; a list maintenance coordinator; three social workers; two financial counselors; two data coordinators; a business administrator; a fundraising coordinator; and four administrative assistants.
This new, larger organizational structure has allowed the transplant team to get more people on the waiting list, potentially decreasing the wait time to find matching donors.
“Before transplant surgery, our patients are surviving on dialysis,” Dr. Wynn said. “But patients who opt for a new kidney can add as much as four to 12 years more to their lifespan than those who continue to live on dialysis alone,” he said.
That’s just what Scott is planning for – more years and better health. “It’s almost like I’m in a dream world,” she said. “Everybody was telling me that 2007 would never be the same, and they were right.”
MCG Health is composed of three organizations – MCG Health, Inc. and the clinical services offered by the faculty of the Medical College of Georgia and the members of the MCG Physicians Practice Group. MCG Health, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation operating the MCG Medical Center, MCG Children’s Medical Center, the MCG Sports Medicine Center, MCG MCGHealth Medical Office Building, the Georgia Radiation Therapy Center and related clinical facilities and services. MCG Health, Inc. was formed to support the research and education mission of the Medical College of Georgia, and to build the economic growth of the CSRA, the state of Georgia and the Southeast by providing an environment for delivering the highest level of primary and specialty health care. For more information, please visit mcghealth.org.