UC San Diego Health Lung Transplant Program
When Eunice Leon received the call in 2010 that donor lungs were available, she was beyond grateful, and critically ill. Diagnosed at age 16 with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease that causes scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs, the now 34-year-old Leon had spent a significant part of her life in the hospital.
“There is no cure for IPF, so it was just about finding a treatment management plan to live somewhat of a quality life,” said Leon. “Nine years after I received my diagnosis, I reached the point where it was determined my only chance to live was to receive a double lung transplant.”
That is when Leon was transferred to UC San Diego Health. She was admitted to the hospital and was on the wait list for seven months before undergoing her transplant surgery.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. Before my transplant, I had come to terms with saying my good-byes. Two months after my wedding, I fell severely sick and my new husband and family were being told to begin making funeral arrangements,” she said. “I am so grateful to the donor and the unbelievable care I received at UC San Diego Health. I turned 25 while recovering in the hospital post-transplant. I left a new age with new lungs.”
UC San Diego Health is the only hospital system in San Diego County with a lung transplant program. Approximately 40 lung transplant surgeries are performed a year.
Recently, the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) announced its biannual report, released every January and July, ranking transplant programs across the United States. The SRTR evaluates the status of the nation’s solid organ transplant system and provides data analyses to transplant programs, organ procurement organizations, policy makers, transplant professionals, transplant recipients, organ donors and donor families, as well as the general public to help improve overall recipient outcomes.
In the latest rankings, UC San Diego Health’s lung transplant program was first in the nation for one-year patient survival outcomes among programs with a volume of 30 to 100 lung transplants performed, and second in the nation among all lung transplant programs.
According to the SRTR, the probability of UC San Diego Health lung transplant recipients surviving one-year post-transplant is 98.59 percent, which is higher than the expected rate of 90.94 percent and national average rate of 89.86 percent.
“Our program has grown tremendously over the past several years. Patient access, innovative treatments and a proactive, interdisciplinary care model for these complex cases are what have successfully built our program with integrity and superb outcomes,” said Eugene Golts, MD, surgical director of lung transplant at UC San Diego Health.
The program is at the forefront of surgical approaches and treatment, including a technology used to improve the viability of organ donor lungs once outside of the body, transplanting lungs from donors with Hepatitis C into recipients who do not have the infection and being one of the few in the nation to use bacteriophage therapy to control lung infections.
“We are devoted to our patients. We treat each patient individually through the entire spectrum of care from surgery to follow-up appointments. Additionally, we are honoring the donor who has gifted the lungs for our patient to survive. In essence, the goal isn’t for our patients to just live with a lung transplant, but to thrive with a lung transplant,” said Kamyar Afshar, DO, medical director of lung transplant at UC San Diego Health.
UC San Diego Health Heart Transplant Program
The SRTR ranked the heart transplant program at UC San Diego Health as #3 in the nation for one-year survival rates for patients among programs with a volume of 100 to 300 heart transplants performed.
The estimated probability for surviving a heart transplant performed at UC San Diego Health is 94.69 percent, which is higher than the expected rate of 90.68 percent and national average of 91.67 percent.
“We’re an outlier in the right direction and these extraordinary outcomes are evidence of the incredible work performed by our multidisciplinary team in order to save lives safely and reliably, through transplantation,” said Victor Pretorius, MBchB, surgical director of cardiac transplant and mechanical circulatory support at UC San Diego Health. “For our patients, this means receiving specialized care from a team committed to providing the best level treatment for heart failure.”
Pretorius credits the success of the program to innovative research, excellent coordination of team efforts and support from hospital administration.
In 2020, the team performed the first heart transplant surgery on the West Coast from a donor after circulatory death, or DCD, using a new portable organ care system. The state-of-the-art procedure may increase organ donation by an estimated 20 to 30 percent, resulting in less waiting time for patients in need of a new heart.
UC San Diego Health Kidney Transplant Program
The SRTR ranked the kidney transplant program at UC San Diego Health #7 in the nation for one-year patient survival among the programs with a volume of 100 to 300 kidney transplants performed. UC San Diego Health performs the most kidney transplants in San Diego with more than 130 procedures annually.
The one-year estimated probability for surviving a kidney transplant at UC San Diego Health at one month, one year and three years is above the national average. The one-year post-transplant survival at UC San Diego Health is 99.28 percent, which is higher than the expected rate of 97.90 percent and national average rate of 97.61 percent.
The program offers different types of kidney transplants. A deceased kidney donation comes from a donor who is diagnosed as “brain dead,” but whose other organs are still functioning. A living donor kidney transplant comes from a living donor, such as a family member or friend, who donates one of his or her two kidneys. Another form of living donation, paired kidney transplant, allows donors who are not blood-or tissue-compatible with their recipient to "exchange" their kidney with a donor who is compatible.
“Our outstanding kidney transplant patient outcomes are a direct reflection of the tireless and high quality of care provided to our patients by the entire team,” said Kristin Mekeel, MD, chief of the division of transplant and hepatobiliary surgery. “It’s such an honor to do what I do for a living and give patients a better quality of life. I also get to witness family members donating to loved ones and strangers donating to patients, giving life through the incredibly selfless act of organ donation.”
UC San Diego Health Liver Transplant Program
The SRTR ranked the liver transplant program at UC San Diego Health #7 in the nation for one-year patient survival among programs with a volume of 30 to 100 liver transplants performed. UC San Diego Health and Sharp HealthCare partnered in 2016 to create a joint liver transplantation program that combines resources, collaborates on research and expands specialized liver care in the San Diego region.
The liver transplant program has exceptionally high probabilities for surviving at one month, one year and three-year post-transplant, all above the expected rate and national average. The one-year post transplant survival is 96.37 percent, which is higher than the expected rate of 94.38 percent and national average rate of 93.83 percent. The liver transplant program was able to achieve these excellent outcomes while growing exponentially, performing 91 liver transplants in 2020, a record for UC San Diego Health and the San Diego region.
The program provides comprehensive treatment for people with end-stage liver disease due to chronic liver disease and acute liver failure.
In September 2020, UC San Diego Health was the first hospital in San Diego and the only health care system in Southern California to transplant a liver from a donor with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) into an HIV-positive recipient. The successful surgery is part of a national clinical trial that could result in more life-saving options and less time on the transplant wait list for HIV-positive patients.
“Each member of the UC San Diego Health liver transplant program is dedicated to doing their absolute best for our patients every single day. These results are a testament to that dedication, and proof that transplantation is truly a team effort,” said Gabriel Schnickel, MD, surgical director of liver transplantation at UC San Diego Health. “We are so proud of our team and grateful for the lifesaving gifts from all of our organ donors and their families. They are heroes.”
The Center for Transplantation at UC San Diego Health is a national hub of clinical expertise and research. Since 1968, transplant teams have performed thousands of operations under a national standard of care.
“The SRTR is meaningful for potential transplant recipients and their families because it gives them valuable information that is helpful in deciding which transplant center is right for them,” said Tamra Magee, RN, director of the Center for Transplantation at UC San Diego Health. “There are many circumstances to take into consideration when selecting a transplant center. UC San Diego Health strives to provide excellent clinical care that is patient-focused.”
For Leon, it has been a decade since her double-lung transplant. Her life is full and happy. In 2020, she became a mother, giving birth to a healthy baby girl at UC San Diego Health. It was not an easy journey to motherhood. Carrying and delivering a baby as an organ recipient involves significant health risks.
“I always wanted to be a mom. As a lung transplant recipient, I knew the risks, and I was willing to do whatever was necessary to safely bring a child into this world. When I look into my daughter Nadia’s eyes, I know how fortunate I am.
“From my pulmonologist, Dr. Gordon Yung, to my high-risk OB/GYN team, I once again received the same remarkable and compassionate care I did a decade ago, but this time, instead of receiving the gift of lungs, I received the gift of delivering a beautiful baby. This team has given me new life in so many ways.”