University Hospital performs 1,000th kidney transplant

The transplant program started 40 years ago.
Kidney transplant recipient Ethan Russel snuggles with his mother Nancy Russell during a press conference Wednesday at University Hospital. Nancy Russell's donation last month marked University Hospital's 1,000th kidney transplant.

University Hospital celebrated is 1,000th kidney transplant at a news conference Wednesday.

On Aug. 31, surgeons performed the living-donor transplant, removing the kidney of Nancy Russell to place in her son, Ethan Russell. The surgery lasted about five hours.

“In this case, it was a living donor,” Renal Transplant Program Director Mark Wakefield said. “A very special gift from mother to son that will allow Ethan to have a very normal life.”

Ethan was diagnosed with a rare, progressive congenital disease in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It was tough with his autism to know how he was feeling,” Ethan’s father Emmett Russell said. “You never know if he’s feeling sick. You always have to rely on taking his temperature and watching his actions.”

Emmett Russell said his son didn’t communicate much at all when he was younger.

“We found out about a year and half ago that Ethan was going through kidney failure and immediately we decided to start with Nancy, to see if she was going to be a donor,” Emmett Russell said. “Thankfully, Nancy was a perfect match.”

The family’s doctors were concerned about transplanting an adult kidney into an 8-year-old, and it was a matter they looked at beforehand.

“(Ethan’s doctor) made a tiny little incision in Ethan, and the kidney was able to fit in,” Wakefield said. “You have to make sure there is room for it to fit. In this case it was just perfect.”

According to an MU Health Care news release, the average lifespan of a transplanted kidney is 12 years. Some University Hospital patients have lived for more than 30 years with their original transplant.

“Our expectation for Ethan is that the kidney could last him 20 or 25 years,” Wakefield said.

Wakefield said although there haven’t been many changes in surgery techniques, the likelihood of success has changed dramatically.

The first kidney transplant at University Hospital was performed in 1972 by professor emeritus of surgery Gilbert Ross.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service has honored University Hospital’s organ donor program for four consecutive years with the Medal of Honor. The hospital ranks with more than 400 hospitals across the country, all of which have organ donation consent rates greater than 75 percent throughout a year.

Wakefield said on the national level, living donors represent 35 to 40 percent of kidneys donated. At University Hospital, the numbers are 20 to 25 percent. He said they make sure what they do is safe for the donors.

“In our geographic area, the wait for a deceased donor kidney is shorter than the national average, thanks to our partnership with to our organ procurement organization,” Wakefield said.

To have a kidney transplant program, a population of patients with kidney disease is needed, along with a large infrastructure.

“Most transplant programs are centered in urban environments and large tertiary care centers, which is a huge disadvantage for patients who live in rural parts of the country," Wakefield said. “There’s research that says the further you live away from a transplant program, the less likely you are to get a transplant.”

Wakefield said University Hospital has provided Columbia with its transplant program and access to advanced treatment options for nearly 40 years.

“It’s the only place outside of Kansas City and St. Louis in the state where you can get a kidney transplant,” Wakefield said.

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