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2023 a record year for adult organ transplants via Intermountain Health

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Feb 2, 2024

Molly Riley, Associated Press

In this June 28, 2016, file photo, Dr. Matthew Cooper carries a donated kidney at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.

Intermountain Health’s transplant program had a record-breaking year in 2023, thanks to the generosity of donors, their families and caregivers.

It was the fifth consecutive year Intermountain Health has performed record-breaking numbers of adult transplants, according to the company.

In 2017, patient Harold “Hal” McNeil was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, and two tumors also were found. NASH is an advanced form of fatty liver disease in people who do not consume alcohol. When the fat builds up, it causes inflammation and damage, which can lead to scarring of the liver — or cirrhosis. Then, in January 2023, his physician discovered another tumor and he was moved up on the transplant waiting list.

Within six months, the 64-year-old was told a liver was available, but he turned down the offer, saying too many others had been on the waiting list longer than him, but the liver he was offered was a perfect match.

As he thought of his children and grandchildren, McNeil decided, “I can’t say no,” he said, and last July he received the liver and a new lease on life. He became one of the 414 Utahns to receive an organ transplant.

According to Intermountain Health, last year was the biggest increase in liver transplants, which increased from 104 in 2022 to 182 in 2023. Also last year, 198 kidney, 30 heart and 4 kidney/pancreas adult transplants were performed, which is a 38% increase from 2022. Utah is ranked ninth in the nation with the shortest wait time.

“This unprecedented growth in our transplant program reflects how our dedicated multidisciplinary team has lived up to our mission of helping as many people live the healthiest lives possible,” said Dr. Jean Botha, transplant surgeon and medical director of Intermountain Health’s abdominal transplant program. “The increased number of transplants is evidence that our team of caregivers are making transplantation possible for even the most complex patients with high-quality outcomes.”

Every nine minutes, someone in the U.S. is added to the transplant wait list. In Utah, 885 people are on that list. In total, 103,000 Americans are waiting for a new kidney, liver, heart, lungs or pancreas.

In October, the National Kidney Registry named Intermountain Health’s transplant program as the top Kidney for Life program in the U.S. for successfully matching kidney donors to those in need.

“It is important to keep in mind that although donors get called heroes, the real heroes of these stories are the recipients and their families,” said Dr. Cara Heuser, a maternal fetal medicine physician at Intermountain Health.

Heuser volunteered to be a living liver donor in 2020 and a living kidney donor in 2023.

“I’m in awe of the courage and grace they show in the face of circumstances they didn’t and wouldn’t choose, of the perseverance and advocacy on behalf of their child, and their generosity to now include me in their lives,” Heuser said.

To find out more about organ donation or to register to become a donor, go to intermountainhealthcare.org/donatelife.


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