As meager kidney supplies challenge hospitals nationwide, a Fort Worth physician and his team are defying the odds.
Under the direction of Dr. George Rofaiel, several physicians and staff at Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth tap technology and sheer determination to place as many kidneys as possible.
“Our program is now probably the fastest-growing in the nation and has the shortest wait time,” said Rofaiel, surgical director of transplant services for Plaza Medical’s Fort Worth Transplant Institute. The doctor is determined to find a home for the precious organs as numbers of suitable kidneys lag rising demand.
Assisting Rofaiel in that mission is another transplant surgeon, Sameh Fayek, M.D., as well as transplant nephrologists Balamurugan P. Sankarapandian, Patrick Nef, Sridhar Allam and Imran Adam Memon and a modest administrative staff.
Their collective efforts have gained notice nationwide, at least one factor that led the Texas Transplantation Society to hold its annual scientific meeting at the Hilton Fort Worth. The July 28-31 gathering will draw fellow surgeons and specialists to a city on the cutting edge of kidney placement.
“When you look at Plaza Medical, George is extremely skilled at evaluating organ offers,” said Teresa Shafer, president of the Texas Transplantation Society, who started Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth’s organ procurement program in 1985 and helped the facility start its transplantation program.
Shafer also lauded transplant programs at Baylor All Saints Medical Center and Texas Health Harris.
Plaza Medical Center’s average wait time to transplant kidneys is about six months, compared to more than 72 months on a national basis, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, administered by the Chronic Research Group of the Minneapolis Research Foundation, with oversight and funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
“Fort Worth has done a terrific job on taking care of patients, and times have been shorter because organ placement is so good,” Shafer said.
Several factors have put Plaza Medical Center on the transplant map. One is Rofaiel’s openness to using donor kidneys that doctors at other hospitals may find difficult to transplant. One way to ensure an older organ’s vitality is to remove it, cold-flush it and place it in a cooled bag.
“We can preserve them longer, which makes it easier to find a recipient,” said Shafer, pointing to what are known as perfusion systems that keep donated lungs alive outside the human body for several hours, giving doctors extra time to inspect the organ as fluid courses through them, effectively preparing them for transplant.
Another secret to Plaza Medical’s success is staff flexibility.
“It’s having people willing to wake up at 3 [a.m.], get on the phone and look up literature to see is we can do it, regardless of who is on call or who is not,” Rofaiel said.
Since Plaza Medical Center’s transplant program debuted in August 2012, staff have performed 173 kidney transplants, including 61 in 2015 and 56 so far in 2016.
“We look at every organ. If there is not an exact [patient] match, we donate it elsewhere,” Rofaiel said.
More information on Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth’s kidney transplant services is available at http://plazamedicalcenter.com/service/transplant