UAB Medicine News


Significant Increase in Transplants in 2017 Helps Fuel National Record

Surgeons at the University of Alabama at Birmingham performed 462 total transplants in 2017 — up from 398 in 2016 (a 16.1 percent increase) — helping to fuel a national record of more than 10,000 deceased-donor transplants performed for the first time in a calendar year in the United States.

transplants 2012 2017 finalDeceased organ donor transplants at UAB rose from 330 in 2016 to 366 in 2017 — a 10.9 percent increase. Living kidney donors who donated through UAB’s Division of Transplantation also were up significantly, from 68 in 2016 to 96 in 2017 — a 41.2 percent increase.

As UAB embarks on its 50th year of transplantation in 2018, a number of different things are to credit for the dramatic increase, says Devin Eckhoff, M.D., director of Transplantation, part of UAB’s School of Medicine and Department of Surgery. One of the biggest factors, he says, is the generosity of those who make the choice to give life to others.

“When you have the privilege of helping someone return to good health, and you know that privilege is given to you because another human being made a conscious decision to give of themselves — whether it is upon death or as a living donor — it’s just an incredible honor for each of us as surgeons to help facilitate that generosity,” Eckhoff said. “We see the impact those decisions make and the joy these gifts give to families. Donors are true heroes.”

UAB’s transplant program is annually one of the busiest in the nation, performing kidney, liver, pancreas, heart, lung, small bowel and islet cell transplants. The division is recognized nationally as a leader in research, education and patient care. Since 1968, UAB’s transplant services have performed more than 14,000 organ transplants with more than 400 organs routinely transplanted each year, which ranks the program among the nation’s leaders in the number of transplants performed and patient outcomes. Changes and additions in recent years have enabled UAB surgeons to procure and use more organs from deceased donors and to reach more potential living donors.

One of the ways deceased donations have been further optimized is the continued growth of the Alabama Organ Center. The number of organ donors within the state has increased more than 53 percent over the past five years, while organs recovered for transplant have increased 55 percent. For the same time period in the United States, organ donation and organs transplanted have increased 22 percent.

The AOC opened its Donor Recovery Center in February 2106 and began transferring organ donors to its facility at UAB Hospital. The center is the second-busiest in the nation, and the only one in the country to have an in-house recovery center that is connected to an academic medical center like UAB. This, along with the addition of critical care specialist Sam Windham, M.D., has helped improve donor management protocols at the recorvery center, which has resulted in more organs utilized for transplant.

The AOC had 495 organs recovered and transplanted in 2017, another record year for the organization. The AOC’s work was recently recognized with a Level I award through the Alabama Performance Excellence Program, which acknowledges organizations that have made a serious commitment to using the Baldrige Excellence Framework for performance excellence.

“When we opened our center about two years ago, we believed it was going to help us increase the number of organs transplanted and give us the potential to save more lives,” said Chris Meeks, executive director of the AOC.

“The Level I ALPEX award is a testament to our staff’s hard work and unwavering commitment to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation. Because the mission of our organization is so important, we strive for performance excellence in everything that we do. We want to do our best to fulfill the wishes of our deceased donors, and it’s truly overwhelming to see the impact our deceased donors and donor families have provided through their lifesaving and life-enhancing gifts.”

Nationwide, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network reports that organs were recovered from 10,281 donors in 2017, representing a 3.1 percent increase over 2016 and an increase of 27 percent since 2007.

Approximately 82 percent (28,587) of the transplants performed in 2017 involved organs from deceased donors. Living donor transplants accounted for the remaining 18 percent (6,181). In the 30-year span from 1988 (the first full year national transplant data were collected) through 2017, a total of 721,742 transplants have been performed nationwide.

Living donors contribute

Eckhoff says the 41.2 percent increase in living donors is the result of an enhanced focus on pursuing or helping patients identify living donors to increase the donor pool through UAB’s Living Donor Navigator Program.

The program is designed to help those in need of a transplant to overcome the barriers involved in identifying a potential living donor. Each patient identifies a “living donor champion” to oversee the search for a compatible kidney. UAB surgeons performed six kidney transplants within the first six months the program was implemented in 2017. These donors were directly attributed to the advocacy role played by living donor champions.

“Our program provides the champion and the patient with training, educational materials, and other resources designed to help them be more comfortable with initiating conversations and spreading awareness about living kidney donation,” Eckhoff said. “The goal is to improve the chances of locating a donor, given that some patients may be too sick, too busy with treatment and other responsibilities, or too withdrawn from social circles to effectively manage the search. In some cases, the patient simply may not want to ask others to donate such a priceless gift. Choosing a living donor champion helps eliminate the need for patients to serve as their own advocates.”

Living donor navigators are trained UAB Medicine employees who help potential donors navigate the living donor evaluation process by answering questions, assisting them with completing required paperwork, setting medical appointments, and ensuring that donors have the support needed after surgery. In addition, the navigators are responsible for training and assisting the living donor champions. The program is modeled after the highly successful navigator program developed by the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

For questions regarding the Living Donor Navigator Program, email Daagye Hendricks or Beverly Berry, or call 205-975-2449.

Those interested in exploring the possibility of being a living organ donor can also fill out UAB’s online Living Kidney Donor Screening Form. To become an organ donor upon death, register now at

Source: UAB News

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