Newswise — Rush University Medical Center’s solid organ transplant program has better-than-expected rates of one-year adult patient survival after liver and kidney transplantation, according to the most recent transplantation report released by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR). These rates makes Rush’s program unique to Chicago and among the nation’s best.

“The liver transplant program has a one-year patient survival of 97.6 percent, placing it sixth among 146 liver transplant centers in the United States and first among the centers in the Chicago area,” said Dr. Martin Hertl, director of the Rush Solid Organ Transplant Program and section chief of transplant surgery at Rush.

Data empowers patients to make informed care decisions

SRTR provides data on organ transplantation that is used by regulatory agencies, insurance companies, and prospective patients. (SRTR is operated by a division of the nonprofit Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation under contract with the Division of Transplantation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

Every six months SRTR releases data about organ transplant activity in the United States. The most recent data, released on January 5, includes outcomes for transplants that occurred during July 2013 through December 2015. According to the transplant data, the living donor kidney transplant program at Rush continues with 100 percent one-year graft (organ) and patient survival rates, while the deceased donor kidney transplant program continues to exceed regional and national rates with 96.6 percent one-year graft survival and 97.9 percent one-year patient survival rates.

Additionally, the kidney-pancreas program continues to grow in numbers while maintaining its 100 percent organ and patient survival rates, extending now to three years after transplantation.

“This data available on the SRTR website enables anyone to search online for local transplant programs to see how well patients are after they receive an organ transplant. This empowers patients with the information they can use when deciding where to receive their care,” said Hertl.

“It’s very difficult to reduce something that is as complicated as transplant to a grade or score; but when using the survival rate to measure the success of the program, it shows that Rush is one of the best in the nation,” said Dr. Nancy Reau, chief of the Section of Hepatology at Rush and associate director of the Rush Solid Organ Transplant Program.

Results follow three-year improvement effort

Outcome data is one key measurement tool in determining quality health care. Outcome data can include mortality rates, patient safety indicators and readmission rates. Designations and certifications by official health care accrediting organizations also provide information on when a hospital goes above the norm to provide a higher quality of care.

“We continually seek improvement in our plans and in how we care for our patients,” said Hertl. “We have had a concentrated and comprehensive effort over the past three years by the entire transplant team to improve every aspect of our program, to provide the best care for our patients.

As with any program, we wanted to find out what factors go into making a patient successful in managing their health, and exceed that level of care. The success we found is in having a multidisciplinary team to collaborate on every aspect of a patient’s care.”

Through this process, Rush has also prioritized access to care so that new patients and pre-transplant patients can be seen in as little as seven days.

“It’s not surprising to hear that Rush has excellent outcomes, especially from my experience in knowing the way they coordinated my care,” said Illinois resident Trudie Imhauser, 67, who received a liver transplant at Rush in September of 2016.

Many conditions can lead to a need for liver transplantation, but most patients require treatment for a period of time before a patient is ready for a transplant. Some conditions include drug induced liver disease, viral hepatitis, autoimmune disease, iron overload, fatty liver disease, and alcoholic liver disease, all of which can lead to liver failure or cirrhosis.

Imhauser went to her local doctor for a simple checkup in July of 2016 only to find out that her liver wasn’t functioning well. Imhauser didn’t have noticeable symptoms initially. What she thought to be a simple infection was an autoimmune disease attacking her liver.

“After a couple of months I was really sick, but there were at least 15 people there to help me through the process. They treated us really well and every single person was amazing — the nurses, the doctors, the pharmacists and the people in rehab — they were all there for me,” said Imhauser.

Team approach helps keep patients as healthy as possible

Transplant patients receive an evaluation, medical tests and are set up with several health care providers that could include a pre-transplant nurse coordinator, hepatologist, nephrologist, endocrinologist, transplant surgeon, cardiologist, medical assistant, social worker, pharmacist, dietician and financial coordinator.

 “From the moment a patient comes to Rush, several individuals are in contact with the person. Having each of these key providers on a patient’s care team will help identify and resolve issues that may arise to help keep each patient as healthy as possible,” said Reau.

“While we have an excellent team in place, the success of our program couldn’t happen without the wonderful people who donate their organs as living donors or by signing organ donor cards in the event of sudden death.”

Transplants in U.S. hit record in 2016

Early data shows that organ transplants performed in the United States last year reached a new record high for the fourth consecutive year, according to a release in January from the United Network for Organ Sharing. (Known as UNOS for short, the network serves as the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) under federal contract.)

In 2016, 33,606 transplants were reported, representing an 8.5 percent increase from 2015 and an increase of 19.8 percent since 2012. The growth was driven by an increase in the number of deceased donors to 9.2 percent from 2015 to 2016. Approximately 82 percent (27,628) of the transplants involved organs from deceased donors. The remaining 18 percent (5,978) were performed with organs from living donors.

“This wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the giving donors. I get emotional thinking about the donor and the donor’s family,” said Imhauser.

I’ve always felt strongly and been a believer in helping others through organ donation. I’m so thankful that I could be a recipient. If I can help someone in the future the way that everyone has helped me, that would be awesome.”

More information about the transplant program can be found on the Transplant Program website, or to make an appointment call (312) 942-4252.