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Prisma Health to launch solid organ transplantation program beginning with kidney transplants

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Health system poised to bring important healthcare service closer to patients, families

Dr. Todd Merchen recruited to head up new program

GREENVILLE, S.C.—Prisma Health is launching a solid organ transplantation program in response to rising community needs. The program, currently under development, will initially begin by performing kidney transplants, including living-related donors. It is being developed to provide critically ill patients with life-saving transplants in areas closer to where they live, in addition to responding to the increasing need for transplants.

In 2019, more than 30% of all South Carolina kidney transplant patients left the state for their care, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). That was 109 South Carolinians traveling to transplant centers in North Carolina, Georgia and other states.

In the United States, more than 119,000 people are currently on the organ transplant list with more than 99,000 of those waiting for kidney transplants, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN).

As a comprehensive healthcare delivery system, Prisma Health has many of the components required for an accredited solid organ transplantation program and has recruited Todd Merchen, MD, a transplant surgery specialist, as program director. While Prisma Health will begin its transplantation program with kidneys, other services such as pancreas and liver will be considered based upon the needs of the population Prisma Health serves.

The kidney transplant program is scheduled to begin in late 2021, and the team is making great progress in organizing services and recruiting specialized staff to meet this timeline.

“Prisma Health was created to improve the health and well-being of our communities and to deliver high-quality, affordable and accessible health care to the citizens of South Carolina,” said Mark O’Halla, President and Chief Executive Officer of Prisma Health. “This is an example of a new service that we can provide due to the scale and expertise that Prisma Health offers to our patients, the communities we serve, and to the state of South Carolina. This program will help us care for these vulnerable patients who deserve to have needed, complex services provided close to home.”

Local physicians and clinicians who provide care for patients who are candidates for a transplant are strong advocates for Prisma Health providing this service. Istvan Bogner, MD, a nephrologist with Carolina Nephrology, said, “We are absolutely thrilled to work with Prisma Health to develop a local transplant option for our patients. Bringing a new transplant program to the state will transform the care of kidney disease in South Carolina and ensure that our patients can more easily access the care and treatment they need. We applaud Prisma Health’s efforts to meet a critical need.”

According to UNOS, the number of kidney transplants is up 7% nationally. In 2019, 22,641 adult kidney transplants were performed across the country, up from 21,159 in 2018. According to OPTN, there were 277 kidney transplants in South Carolina in 2019, up from 234 in 2018 – more than an 18% increase.

Of the 354 SC residents who received a transplant in 2019, 174 of them live in the Prisma Health service area. More than 33% of all organs donated by South Carolinians were sent to patients in other states (7/1/2018 - 6/30/2019 Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients data). With the Prisma Health transplant program, South Carolinians will have greater access to this lifesaving procedure closer to home.

“Being able to offer kidney transplants – as well as initial screening care and follow-up care – close to home will help ease the burden felt by patients and families, as well as increase continuity of care,” said Wendell James, MD, Prisma Health’s Chief Clinical Officer in the Upstate where the surgeries would take place. “Local, high-quality access also helps improve the quality of life for transplant-eligible patients, many of whom suffer from end-stage renal disease and are on dialysis, making travel especially difficult.”

Prisma Health is already a major participant in South Carolina’s organ transplant activity. Its hospitals, including its two Level One Trauma Centers, have recovered the most donated organs in the Upstate and Midlands regions. Adding the organ transplantation program would benefit those who live close to the health system since patients listed on the kidney transplant registry must be available upon short notice once they are notified that a suitable transplant is available to them. In addition, transplant patients and their family members who must receive ongoing care, before and after a transplant, would not have to travel as far.

“As the organ procurement organization (OPO) that serves the people of South Carolina, We Are Sharing Hope SC is looking forward to the expanded donation and transplantation services that will be offered through Prisma Health’s new kidney transplant program,” said Dave DeStefano, President and CEO of We Are Sharing Hope SC. “We are grateful to our hospital and transplant partners across the state for the tremendous life-saving work being done on behalf of all our donor heroes and those awaiting their gift of life.”

Prisma Health already offers several nationally recognized specialty programs to treat complex medical conditions. For example, Prisma Health is a recognized leader in bone marrow transplantation. Its nationally accredited Blood and Marrow Transplant Program is a comprehensive center providing autologous, allogeneic matched related, matched unrelated and partially matched related donor transplants. Since its beginnings in 1992, the program has performed more than 1,100 transplants with survival and disease-free rates that are comparable to other nationally recognized programs.

In addition, Prisma Health is now providing cellular therapy with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy – a promising approach to fight cancer by using a patient’s own immune cells, as well as participating in national clinical trial cooperative groups providing cutting-edge therapy.

For more information about the transplant program, visit PrismaHealth.org/OrganTransplant.


About Prisma Health

Prisma Health is a not-for-profit health company and the largest healthcare system in South Carolina. With nearly 30,000 team members, 18 hospitals, 2,947 beds and more than 300 outpatient sites with nearly 2,000 physicians, Prisma Health serves more than 1.2 million unique patients annually in its 21-county market area that covers 50% of South Carolina. Prisma Health’s goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care, as well as conducting clinical research and training the next generation of medical professionals.

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