Despite COVID-19, Cedars-Sinai Hits New Transplant Record
Teamwork, Innovation and Organ Donation Come Together to Save Lives
This spring, anesthesiologist Jennifer Cutler, MD, was looking forward to a weekend relaxing with her husband and two teenaged children when she got the call – she was urgently needed to oversee anesthesiology for not one, but two, liver transplants at Cedars-Sinai.
Cutler, who enjoys spending her weekends going on long runs, catching up on her to-do list and savoring family dinners, dropped everything to come in to work. She wasn't "on call," per se, but Cutler said that when she and her fellow anesthesiologists are needed for a transplant surgery, they go.
"Even when we're not on call, we just all pitch in and get the cases done," Cutler said. "We have always had an attitude of teamwork."
That weekend, surgeons from the Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Transplant Center and Smidt Heart Institute performed a whopping 11 transplant surgeries in a single weekend. They performed one heart transplant, two liver transplants, two dual kidney/pancreas transplants, and six kidney transplants (including one pediatric kidney transplant).
“It was a busy weekend," said Irene Kim, MD, co-director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center and associate professor of surgery. "But this is not unusual for our transplant teams, who are always prepared to help out, even if not on call."
During fiscal year 2021, which ended June 30, the Comprehensive Transplant Center team completed 561 organ transplants, compared with 516 in FY 2020 and 523 in FY 2019.
The FY 2021 transplant surgeries included 278 kidneys, 130 hearts, 108 livers, 34 lungs, 10 dual kidney/pancreas and one pancreas alone.
“Even in the face of the biggest pandemic in recent history, our team has stepped up to help patients who are critically in need," said Andrew Klein, MD, Esther and Mark Schulman Chair in Surgery and Transplantation Medicine; co-director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center; and professor of surgery. "These numbers are a reflection of the daily hard work of so many dedicated individuals.”
Dropping Everything to Save a Life
For Cutler, an integral part of the Cedars-Sinai transplant team, giving up her weekend plans always means saving someone's life.
"It's not always the most fun thing to say to your kids, 'I have to go to work now,' or 'I can't venture too far from home because I might have to go in,' but at the same time when you realize that there's somebody on the other end who is waiting for an organ, you don't want to be the reason that there's a delay," she said.
Leading With Trust
This feat comes at a time when Cedars-Sinai is employing some of the most leading-edge techniques available, like the first-of-its-kind minimally invasive double-lung transplant surgery in Southern California, performed by Pedro Catarino, MD, director of aortic surgery in the Smidt Heart Institute, and Dominick Megna, MD, surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program, in March.
“Of course, none of this would be possible without the tremendous generosity of the patients who are organ donors and their families," Kim said.
Those precious donor organs are transported to patients in need using innovative technologies like the "Heart in a Box" medical device, which can extend the life of a heart outside the body, thereby allowing surgeons to transport organs over longer distances.
“Although we are one of the busiest transplant centers in the nation offering the most innovative and leading-edge techniques, it’s not what sets us apart,” said Joanna Chikwe, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiac Surgery in the Smidt Heart Institute and the Irina and George Schaeffer Distinguished Chair in Cardiac Surgery in honor of Alfredo Trento, MD. “What sets us apart are the brave and trusting patients who believe in our abilities and put their lives in our hands. The relationships built between our patients and their care teams is one-of-a-kind and it propels our staff to give our best each day.”
Read more in Discoveries: Being Patient: The Delicate Timing of Organ Transplantation