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UC Health Sets Organ Transplant Record

Dr. Shimul Shah (far right) performs surgery at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Courtesy of UC Health
Dr. Shimul Shah (far right) performs surgery at University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

The University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC) performed 303 organ transplants in nearly 300 surgeries last year, setting a new record.

That's a 25 percent increase from 2017 overall and a 40 percent increase in living kidney donor transplants for the hospital. UCMC is home to the region's sole comprehensive organ transplant program.

"It's a combination of our program's growth and reach ... and making sure that patients in our region are coming here, in combination with an increase in the number of organ donors in the United States," says Shimul Shah, M.D., chief of solid organ transplantation with UC Health. "So there's more organs and ... we are listing more and more patients for transplant because of the growth of our program."

Patient outcomes are trending positive as well, and the rate of patients on organ waiting lists who are receiving organs is among the highest in the country, Shah says. "Meaning we are listing people and we're getting them transplanted. They're not dying on the waiting list."

Changes Ahead

According to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), UCMC performed the third most transplants in Ohio, behind the Cleveland Clinic at 525 organs, and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center at 461.

Transplant numbers could change in the coming years because the way organs are allocated around the country is changing.

"One of the issues is how organs are given out is a bit arbitrary. It's based on donor service areas which were kind of made up many years ago," Shah points out.

The threat of a federal lawsuit prompted UNOS to adjust the liver distribution policy. Previous fixed boundaries are being replaced with circular radius ones that also take need into account. The new plan takes effect in April.

New policies for other organs are either under public review or in various stages of discussion.

Organ Donation

Organ transplant surgery is increasingly safer and more people who might not previously been considered are receiving organs successfully.

More than 36,000 organs were transplanted in 2018, according to UNOS. Living organ donation went up 11 percent nationally and the number of people choosing to donate organs upon death rose 4 percent.

UC Medical Center ranks 16th in the country among liver transplant centers and 40th for the number of kidney transplants. It was one of the first in the country to perform organ transplants. Dr. Wes Alexander, a transplant pioneer, created UC's program in 1967, performing Cincinnati's first kidney and adult heart transplant surgeries. He died last year.

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Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.