University Health System Transplant Center has performed its first living donor transplant since COVID-19 forced the postponement of all non-emergency surgeries in March.
During March and April, the team continued with transplants for critically ill patients when deceased organs became available. Thirty patients received the gift of life during that time.
“We had to make a decision on how to best protect our patients,” said Jennifer Milton, the chief administrative officer for the Transplant Center, a partnership between University Health System and UT Health San Antonio. “During this time we kept close tabs on the impacted recipients to ensure they continued to be stable and would not face worsening health due to waiting longer.”
This week, living donor transplants resumed with the team removing a small portion of a donor’s liver, which will regenerate. It was transplanted into a patient whose liver was failing. A few days later a kidney from a living donor was also transplanted. Another patient affected by the delay is scheduled to receive a kidney from a living donor next week.
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Consistent with University Health protocol, Milton said the Transplant Center is testing all donors and recipients prior to surgery to ensure they are not positive for COVID-19. Surgeries would not be performed if testing showed a patient has the coronavirus. The Transplant Center has also instituted a required COVID-19 education course for the family members and caregivers of the donors and recipients.
“We need all members of a household to have a good understanding of prevention and the risks of COVID-19 transmission for a newly immunosuppressed patient,” said Milton.
Organ donations and transplants nationally and locally have decreased since the advent of COVID-19. Now that elective surgeries are allowed, and we have the capacity to test all patients prior to their transplants, donations and transplants are beginning to return to previous levels.
University Health System Transplant Center performs kidney, liver and lung transplants. It has the only living donor liver program in Central and South Texas, and one of the only programs in Texas offering live organ donation for children.
Milton is reminding the public to donate blood when possible since transplant procedures and other surgeries depend on a strong blood supply. The public can donate to the University Health System blood bank through the website www.donatebloodtoday.com or by emailing Donor.Services@uhs-sa.com.
People can register as organ donors at https://registerme.org.
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