The Abdominal Transplant Division of the Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Surgery has reached a significant milestone. The transplant surgery faculty working with IU Health Transplant has transplanted more than 1,000 pancreases alone or in combination with other organs.
“This is just a stepping stone. We have set out to expand the criteria for the people that we can transplant and offer pancreas transplantation to more patients,” said Jonathan A. Fridell, MD, IU School of Medicine Divison Chief of Transplant Surgery and Professor of Surgery. “We don’t have a limit for how much we can do.”
This is a feat few programs around the country have achieved. The pancreas transplant program at IU Health University Hospital is the fifth program in the country to surpass 1,000 pancreases transplanted.
Overall, IU Health is credited with transplanting nearly 500 organs annually, including kidney, pancreas, liver, intestine, heart and lung. It is ranked as one of the top 21 transplant centers in the nation.
“In many ways, the transplant program here at IU is a well-kept secret,” said Fridell. “We've been very high performing for most of the organs that we transplant, and I don't think that people necessarily know that.”
Fridell explained that the program is made more unique by the team’s ability to perform multi-organ transplants including combinations such as pancreas/liver or multivisceral transplants comprised of an intestine with two or more abdominal organs.
While the transplant team is glad to hit this milestone, their goal is to be able to get every patient through the system and get them a transplant.
“We would like to identify all the patients that could benefit from transplantation and make sure that they get that opportunity,” said Fridell. This includes patients who need a pancreas in combination with a kidney transplant for diabetic nephropathy or a pancreas transplant alone for patients with severe diabetic complications such as hypoglycemia unawareness. “What sets us apart from a lot of other programs is our willingness to do these surgeries in difficult, complicated cases such as with patients who have had previous abdominal surgeries or those with vascular disease, that are heavier, or that are older.”
As a program with such a large volume of transplants, it offers surgical residents and abdominal transplant surgery fellows a fantastic opportunity to learn and take the knowledge from a program like this into their practice.
“The pancreas is a very complicated part of the anatomy of the abdomen, so it is great for the medical students, residents, and for fellows to have an opportunity to see a pancreas sitting on a backbench being prepared for a transplant,” said Fridell. “It's a great way for them to get an understanding of organ retrieval, for multi-organ procurements, and for fellows to get the training to go out there and replicate a program such as ours.”
Dr. Fridell reminds us that none of this would be possible without organ donors and encouraged everyone to register to be an organ donor and make their wishes known to their families.