UAB Hospital Reaches Milestone With 16,000 Organ Transplants

Surgeons with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine reached an institutional milestone in February, surpassing 16,000 total organ transplants performed since its first almost 54 years ago.

UAB’s first transplant was in May 1968 — a living donor kidney transplant — by longtime UAB transplant surgeon Arnold Diethelm, M.D. Diethelm also    performed the first deceased donor kidney transplant later that month.

During the past half-century, the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute has pioneered many advances, including groundbreaking research, new medicines and innovative techniques. Patients from across the country — 44 states — have come to UAB for organ transplantation, making UAB a major national player in the field. UAB has performed more kidney transplants in African Americans than any other transplant center in the United States.

This UAB milestone follows the announcement from the United Network for Organ Sharing that 2021 was the single largest year for organ transplants, with more than 41,000 transplants performed nationwide.

“UAB’s history of innovation and achievement in organ transplantation has led us to be recognized as one of America’s top transplant centers. Most importantly, the work here has benefited 16,000 patients in need of a transplant in Alabama, the Southeast and around the world,” said Jayme Locke, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Transplant Institute. “The multidisciplinary collaboration among UAB specialists who are recognized leaders in heart, lung, liver, kidney, uterus and pancreas transplants and research has helped us develop innovative ways to help patients achieve a transplant — and that has been a focus of our physicians and researchers for decades. There is no greater feeling as a transplant physician than to look into someone’s eyes and see life restored by organ transplantation.”

Of course, UAB would not be able to reach this milestone without the selfless acts of others who were or are currently registered as organ donors. A major factor in those decisions is Alabama’s organ procurement center Legacy of Hope..

“Legacy of Hope is grateful for all of the donors and their families who make transplantation possible,” said Legacy of Hope Executive Director Chris Meeks. “About half of our organ donors register their decision to donate. Donor registration serves as the voice of the donor and relieves the family of making the decision. It saves lives and offers hope to more than 110,000 people waiting for an organ transplant in the United States.”

Today, more than 1,200 candidates in Alabama are on the national organ transplant waiting list. UAB Medicine offers transplant surgery for heart, liver, lung, pancreas and kidney.

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