Erie County Medical Center is on pace to finish the year with its largest number of kidney transplants ever at the hospital.
To date, the medical center has performed 109 kidney transplants in 2016 and 10 kidney-pancreas transplants. That's up from 69 kidney or kidney-pancreas cases in 2012, the year after the hospital opened a $27 million regional transplant and kidney care center as part of a project to combine the once-competitive programs at ECMC and Kaleida Health's Buffalo General Medical Center.
The number of cases by year's end will approximate peak years for kidney transplants in Buffalo in 2002 and 2008, according to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network. The hospital also performed 13 pancreas-only transplants in 2016.
ECMC physicians performed a total of 107 organ transplants in 2015, 80 in 2014 and 70 in 2013.
Hospital officials attributed the increase in activity to the merger of the programs, the work of the regional organ procurement agency, UNYTS, and the recruitment in 2015 of a new program director, Dr. Liise Kayler.
"This is in large part from bringing the two programs together and moving away from competition, and it's Dr. Kayler and her leadership," said Thomas J. Quatroche Jr., president and chief executive officer.
Kayler said the program has focused on putting together processes to identify available organs and match them with appropiate candidates to serve as many patients as possible waiting for a transplant. For instance, she said a kidney from an older donor may not last as long as an organ from a younger donor but may be right for an older recipient, particularly if it means getting a transplant sooner.
There are more than 678,000 Americans with kidney failure, yet fewer than 18,000 individuals receive a kidney transplant each year. Many people will wait years, often enduring dialysis and its risks, before an organ becomes available.
The body's two kidneys perform a number of important jobs, including regulating fluid levels, filtering wastes from blood, and releasing a hormone to regulate blood pressure. Dialysis takes over some of the functions of the kidneys.
ECMC does significantly more kidney transplants from deceased donors than living donors -- 98 deceased and 11 living donors in 2016 for kidneys, for example. That compares with a national ratio as of Nov. 30 of 12,245 deceased donors to 5,087 living donors, according to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
Kayler said her goal is to increase the share of living donors, a challenging goal shared by transplant centers across the nation as the demand for transplants rises and the number of living donors remains relatively flat.
"We want to change that ratio of living to deceased donors. A living donor organ enhances longevity. It's a higher-quality organ," she said. "But for some patients who can't identify a living donor, a deceased donation is an excellent option."
She and others see this as a long-term project that includes making potential donors well-informed about the process and ensuring people's experience is comfortable and efficient.
ECMC budgeted for 120 transplants this year. Quatroche said the program, which employs one other surgeon in addition to Kayler, is looking at adding a third surgeon in anticipation of future growth.
"However, we need to grow at a responsible rate, especially when you consider the wraparound services needed to operate a program like this," he said.
UPMC Hamot in Erie, Pa., recently started a kidney transplant program with the potential of attracting patients from the Southern Tier. Kayler said she is confident that differences in waiting times and service will make ECMC the preferable choice for many people.
ECMC's rise in kidney transplants
2016: 119 (98 deceased donor; 11 living donor; 10 kidney-pancreas)
2015: 98 (82 deceased donor; 11 living donor; 5 kidney-pancreas)
2014: 78 (68 deceased donor; 9 living donor; 1 kidney-pancreas)
2013: 67 (48 deceased donor; 18 living donor; 1 kidney-pancreas)
2012: 69 (48 deceased donor; 20 living donor; 1 kidney-pancreas)
2011: 71 (52 deceased donor; 14 living donor; 5 kidney-pancreas)
2010: 95 (60 deceased donor; 33 living donor; 2 kidney-pancreas)