UMC is now the leading kidney transplant program in the United States

Michael Mitchell has been visiting Hawaii, one of his favorite places on earth, since he was 7 but not since 2019.

Since his last trip, the 55-year-old Las Vegas resident has been suffering from kidney failure and has been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease.

Mitchell said he was stunned to learn his kidney had failed but this polycystic kidney disease runs in his family so he had family members who had previously had a transplant so he could talk to them about the process.

He received a kidney transplant from the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada Transplant Center in October last year, a year after he first suffered from kidney failure and just four months after he was put on the transplant list to receive a kidney.

Mitchell’s speed in receiving the transplant is just one of the reasons UMC is now the top kidney transplant program in the country, according to new data released last month by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

The data, which evaluates kidney transplant programs for their one-year kidney survival rates and shortest wait time for transplant, ranked UMC first out of 257 kidney transplant programs nationwide.

It is an award that Dr. Sunil Patel, program director of the UMC transplant program, calls the “holy grail” for any transplant program.

“I just hope it’s sustainable,” Patel said. “Keeping that growth going is the next big thing, so to speak.”

Triple the number of kidney transplants

Organ allocation in the United States used to favor local candidates for local organs, so a patient in Las Vegas would typically have their kidneys recovered in Las Vegas.

But this system meant that patients in larger cities had to wait longer for organs.

Now the system works in concentric, regional circles, where organs are distributed throughout the circle, according to Patel. Southern Nevada and Las Vegas now have to compete for available organs with much larger, neighboring regional hospitals like the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and UCLA in California.

But with Southern Nevada’s growing population, the city and UMC needed a more robust transplant program. So they set about building a team that could streamline their transplant processes and be more efficient.

This included streamlining the education process for transplant patients so that they could learn about the transplant process and take the required test for patients at home instead of having to come to the hospital for training.

As a result, while UMC traditionally performed 30-40 transplants a year before the pandemic, that number has almost tripled to about 145 kidney transplants per year.

“Give them back their lives”

Most patients at UMC wait 18 months to two years for a kidney, but patients in some major U.S. cities can sometimes wait 10 or more years before receiving a transplant, Patel said.

For patients who require dialysis several hours a day, several days a week, the waiting and maintenance becomes what Patel calls a side job as patients’ bodies slowly deteriorate.

Such a situation underscores the importance of transplants.

“That’s the goal of the transplant, to extend their life but also give them their life back,” Patel said.

It’s a sentiment Mitchell echoed four months after his transplant as he tentatively plans to return to Hawaii once he’s more comfortable traveling amid the respiratory viruses still circulating in the community and is aware he needs more sunscreen must wear and avoid too much sun exposure with his weakened immune system.

What is he looking forward to when he can return to Hawaii?

“Probably just to sit on the lanai and watch the swaying palm trees and the ocean waves, which is key,” Mitchell said. “I like it.”

Those moments are exactly what Patel said is that patients come back once they restore their quality of life post-transplant.

“You have to put sunscreen on,” he added, laughing.

Contact Lorraine Longhi at 702-387-5298 or [email protected] Follow her up @Lolonghi on twitter.