100th, 101st kidney transplants performed at Driscoll

Samhar I. Al-Akash, MD, Medical Director, Driscoll Children’s Kidney Center and Renal Transplantation (from left), Izrel Saldivar, 14, 100th kidney transplant recipient, Alejandro Gomez, 11, 101st kidney transplant recipient, and Stephen Almond, MD, Surgical Director, Driscoll Children’s Hospital’s Renal Transplant Program.

Sunday, March 5, was a red-letter day for Stephen Almond, MD, Surgical Director for the Renal Transplant Program at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. One after the other, the pediatric surgeon successfully performed Driscoll Children’s Hospital’s 100th and 101st kidney transplants.

Izrel Saldivar, 14, was the 100th transplant patient and Alejandro Gomez, 11, was the 101st transplant patient.

Passing 100 was a milestone, one that had been anticipated by hospital officials since the program’s inception just over 10 years ago.

“One hundred is a landmark number for many reasons,” said Dr. Almond.

“First, we were not anticipating achieving this number for 17 years. The fact that we have done so in 10 is astounding. Second is the geography and diversity of South Texas. Our program covers a population of about 2 million, but it is spread over a land mass the size of South Carolina. This has required a lot of traveling for ourselves and our patients.

“Finally, it is not so much the number but the quality of the care that each patient has received in getting to 100. We would not have gotten to 100 if our outcomes were not as good or better than other centers in Texas,” said Dr. Almond.

“The 100-transplant mark has been a goal of this program since its inception. This goal is not only seen as a sign of great achievement, but also a sign of great health and strength, maturity, and the beginning of a new chapter,” said Samhar I. Al-Akash, MD, Head of Nephrology and Medical Director, Driscoll Children’s Kidney Center and Renal Transplantation.

“It’s clearly evident the success of our program is measured in moments and in receiving the opportunity for our patients to be able to spend more time with their loved ones, family and friends. Driscoll Children’s Hospital stands by its mission of not just providing a child their health, but by giving them their life through a kidney transplant,” said Gerardo Gomez, Director of Specialty Clinics at Driscoll Children’s Hospital.

The Renal Transplant Program was spearheaded by William Allen, MD, the first Pediatric Nephrologist at Driscoll Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Almond, who has been performing kidney transplants for more than 20 years, was recruited by Driscoll Children’s Hospital in 2003 while he was an Assistant Professor of

Surgery at Northwestern University and was practicing Pediatric Surgery and Transplant Surgery at Children’s Memorial in Chicago. Driscoll wanted him to come to Corpus Christi as the Medical Director of Surgical Services, Head of Pediatric Surgery, and to start the Transplant Program.

He came to Driscoll in August 2005, and the first transplant was performed Feb. 14, 2007. It was the first transplant of any kind, at any hospital in South Texas. Before Driscoll Children’s Hospital was approved to have its Renal Transplant Program, a child needing a transplant was sent to San Antonio, Houston or Galveston.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Driscoll’s first kidney transplant, the hospital held a celebration Feb. 11 at the Texas State Aquarium, inviting former transplant recipients and their families to the event.

So much has changed since Driscoll’s first kidney transplant, especially the technology.

“Improvement in technology has had a tremendous impact on all aspects of transplantation,” said Dr. Almond. “Technology has improved our surgical techniques in both donor and patient.

“Most living donor kidneys are removed laparoscopically through several small incisions. Some surgeons are now exploring removing kidneys through natural orifices as the mouth or vagina,” Dr. Almond said. “Although most recipients still require a large incision to transplant the kidney, some surgeons have successfully performed the operation robotically.”

With 101 transplants under his belt, Dr. Almond is pleased with the success of the program.

“My initial goals for the Kidney Transplant Program have been surpassed. We were predicted to do about six transplants per year and we are averaging about 10 a year. Our patient and graft survivals are better than the national benchmarks and the other Pediatric Renal Transplant Programs. But we have not yet achieved everything we are capable,” he said.

Both Drs. Al-Akash and Almond agree teamwork is critical between the Kidney Transplant Program and the Driscoll Children’s Kidney Center, where dialysis is performed.

“Dialysis is a treatment for renal failure patients awaiting transplantation. You need to have an excellent dialysis center that adequately prepares and selects patients for transplantation and we have that at Driscoll Children’s Hospital,” said Dr. Almond.

“Although the number and members of the team are dictated by United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) regulations, teamwork cannot be regulated. It comes with experience, communication, respect and trust,” said Dr. Almond.

“Our outcomes are among the best in the country, so we are not just about the numbers, but also about the quality of care that this program delivers to its patients on a consistent basis,” said Dr. Al-Akash. “This is where we are today: We have come a long way, and this is graduation day, and we are ready to write the next chapter.”