Transplant Coordinator Alan Mayes retires after 40-plus years of service

Alan Mayes

Alan Mayes, RN, a post-kidney transplant coordinator with the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute, retired in January 2024. During his long career, Mayes played a role in advances at UAB Medicine generally and in transplant medicine specifically. His supervisors and colleagues say he’ll be hard to replace.

When Mayes began his nursing career at UAB Medicine in 1982, the kidney transplant program was not yet 15 years old, The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital was still 10 years away, and the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute (CTI) was still a distant dream. A graduate of the UAB School of Nursing, Mayes performed dual roles during his early years as a registered nurse in the Transplant Intensive Care Unit.

“In those days, all kidney transplant patients went to the surgical ICU on the fourth floor of Quarterback Tower,” Mayes said. “There were five 8-hour shifts, instead of the three 12-hour shifts we have now. That enabled me to take a side job with Critical Care Transport, and the best way to explain that is to say that I didn’t require as much sleep when I was young. In 1990, I took the job of post-kidney transplant coordinator. Dr. Diethelm had asked me, in a manner of speaking, to go on this journey with him, and that’s exactly what my work has been.”

Significant advances

Mayes is referring to the late Arnold Diethelm, M.D., who was recruited to UAB in 1967 and charged with establishing a transplant program. Dr. Diethelm led the team that in 1968 performed Alabama’s first kidney transplant and over time helped grow UAB’s transplant program into one of the nation’s largest. Mayes says he witnessed significant advances in transplant medicine during his time working with Dr. Diethelm.

“It is truly remarkable what has transpired at UAB Medicine over the years,” Mayes said. “I have witnessed a lot of advances. We now have a greater body of knowledge about antibodies and viruses that have an impact on transplant. We have donor programs, better immunosuppressant drugs, the ability for simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplants, and the incompatible kidney transplant program.”

“When I started, half of kidney transplant patients experienced organ rejection,” Mayes continued. “Most could expect to live another five years after a successful transplantation. Today I have many patients I’ve cared for at least 30 years. They are like family. I know their spouses, their children. It really has been a journey. It was a lot of work since 1982, but I think of all that as 40-something years of rewards.”

A mentor and friend

CTI Associate Vice President Martha Tankersley has worked with Mayes for many years. She says his contributions to the field extend well beyond the excellent care he provided for so many patients.

“There were two transplant coordinators when Alan came on board, and he was one of them,” Tankersley said. “He had a major part in shaping the coordinator role itself, and ultimately he helped define that role. As his expertise grew, he became invaluable not only for patient care, but also in terms of the number of nurses and coordinators he’s trained. He’s been a great resource to our residents as well. Along with all that, he established the Arnold and Nancy Diethelm Endowed Nursing Scholarship, which helps guide nurses toward careers in transplant medicine. Alan has made a lasting impact through his institutional, clinical, and historical knowledge of transplant medicine and post-transplant care. He’s not going to be easily replaced.”

Other colleagues agree with Tankersley’s assessment. “The consummate professional” is how Mayes is described by Carlton J. Young, M.D. “Alan was instrumental in guiding me through the intricacies of the pre- and post-transplant world when I first arrived at UAB in 1997,” Dr. Young said. “He has upheld the highest ethical and clinical standards over his long career. Because of his unwavering efforts, UAB’s renal transplant program assumed and still maintains a prominent role in the world of solid organ transplantation.”

Danielle Henderson, RN, recalls meeting Mayes in the late 1990s in the Transplant Dialysis Unit. “What I like most about Alan is that he was always matter of fact; you never had to guess what was on his mind because he is going to tell you,” Henderson said. “We developed a work relationship and friendship that evolved into my son referring to him as ‘Uncle Alan.’ He dedicated many years to UAB, so I hope he dedicates the rest of his years to himself, doing whatever his heart desires.”

Transplant Coordinator Becky Burns, RN, regards Mayes as a mentor and friend. “Alan’s commitment, passion, and transplant knowledge over more than four decades have contributed to the success of our program,” Burns said. “I consider myself fortunate to have had him as both a mentor and friend for so many years.”

Mayes said he looks forward to an active and productive retirement. “I plan to start doing some traveling and seeing different parts of the world,” he said. “I hope to help with community gardens in the Birmingham area where there are food deserts, those urban areas where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh foods. I will also do some work with a private clinic in town for indigent transplant patients. I may do some mentoring with the UAB School of Nursing and some teaching related to transplantation. I’m not going home to sit, that’s for sure.”

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