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Transplant teams assist Valley patients (7-26-00)

Personnel from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) and University Health System travel to the Lower Rio Grande Valley on a monthly basis to screen prospective kidney and liver transplant patients.

The kidney and pancreas transplant team visits dialysis units from Brownsville to Rio Grande City, said Micaela Buecher, senior kidney/pancreas transplant coordinator in the UTHSC Surgery Department’s Division of Organ Transplantation. A separate liver transplant team visits physicians’ offices and clinics. Valley physicians refer most of the transplant candidates to the surgical personnel for pre-operative assessment.

The liver transplant personnel also provide post-operative follow-up. Glenn A. Halff, M.D., associate professor of surgery at UTHSC and head of the Division of Organ Transplantation, and other transplant surgeons travel to the Valley with the liver transplant coordinator and a physician assistant to provide this service.

Robert M. Esterl Jr., M.D., associate professor of surgery, and Charles Nolan, M.D., transplant nephrologist and assistant professor of surgery, travel with the kidney and pancreas team. "Dialysis patients needing kidney transplants are placed on the waiting list of UNOS (the United Network for Organ Sharing)," Buecher said. "We discuss transplantation as a treatment option and the medical and financial issues that are involved."

Usually on separate visits, a social worker interviews the potential recipients. Questions touch a range of areas, including life history, psychosocial support for the patient and ability to comply with medicine regimens.

"We never go without a planned agenda of patient visits," Buecher said. "We fly into Harlingen, rent a car and lay the groundwork for the physicians and social workers when they arrive."

Referrals from Valley physicians to the Health Science Center’s collaborative kidney transplant program with the University Health System have dramatically increased in the past year, said Lisa Bishop-Beebe, marketing manager for organ transplantation programs with the University Health System. "We attribute this increase to the fact that we are filling a vital need of this medically underserved population," Bishop-Beebe said.

Liver transplant referrals also are on the rise, largely because Dr. Halff and William Kenneth Washburn, M.D., assistant professor of surgery, travel to the Valley monthly to do evaluations in physicians’ offices, she said.

Patients receive initial evaluation by a liver or kidney/pancreas transplant program coordinator. After the first visit, medical tests such as x-rays, dental visits and gynecology consults are accomplished and lab tests including tissue typing are initiated.

On their second visit, patients see a transplant surgeon and/or a transplant nephrologist, along with a transplant program social worker.

An ongoing series of educational seminars for patients and families is featuring physicians, a pharmacist, a clinical nurse specialist, a social worker and other personnel.

UTHSC faculty surgeons perform transplants at a couple of hospitals, including San Antonio’s University Hospital, which is part of the University Health System.

Contact: Will Sansom