Rush Kidney Transplant Nurses Named Team of Year

Nurses from the kidney transplant program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois

Seated (from left): Theresa Partida-Aguirre, RN, Husai Kelliher, RN, and Damaris Echevarria, RN. Standing: Brad Hinrichs, MBA, Elizabeth Myers, RN, Linda Murphy, Sarah Papadopoulos, RN, BSN, Maria Sieczka, RN, Mary Hellmich, BSN, RN, and J. Robert Clapp, Jr., FACHE.

When several nurse coordinators left the kidney transplant program late last year, the other nurse coordinators in the program either took on new duties, worked extra days, assumed an increased patient load or otherwise restructured their work to ensure that the many patients seeking kidney transplants at Rush continued to receive high-quality care.

In recognition of their dedication and hard work, the Rush kidney transplant nurse coordinators team received the Team of the Year Award.

Pretransplant nurse coordinators play an integral role in the transplant process, serving as the initial contact between the patient and the transplant program. These coordinators screen patients with end-stage kidney disease to identify viable candidates for kidney transplantation.

They also work closely with transplant surgeons and nephrologists to provide consistent quality care as patients progress through the referral, evaluation and pretransplant management and listing processes.

The pretransplant nurse coordinators currently are responsible for 454 patients who are awaiting a kidney transplant at Rush and another 400 other patients who are undergoing medical evaluations in order to be put on the waiting list for transplant. Continue reading

Organ Donation: Addressing a Vital Need

Robert Higgins, MD

In the United States, more than 100,000 people are currently on transplant waiting lists for organs, including more than 4,700 people in Illinois. But each year — because of the scarcity of donor organs — less than half of those who need transplants will get them.

“The number of donors simply isn’t keeping pace with the growing need for organs,” says Robert Higgins, MD, chairperson of cardiovascular-thoracic surgery at Rush University Medical Center, who has taken a special interest in organ distribution throughout his career. He is immediate past president of the board of directors of United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which generates and maintains the transplant waiting list, and he is currently a physician liaison on the UNOS Foundation board, which is looking at ways to increase organ donation. He previously sat on the Secretary of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Transplantation, which addresses transplant-related issues and concerns at the national level.

In this post, Higgins discusses the state of organ donation today, and what efforts are under way to address the increasing need for donor organs in the United States.

How are organs distributed — who gets them and why?

It’s a very complicated sequence of matching need with the availability of organs. If you have a diagnosis of end-stage heart, liver, kidney or lung failure, as determined by a physician, you are entered onto a recipient list that has certain predefined criteria. Local organ procurement agencies, such as the Gift of Hope in Chicago, help manage the organ donor lists at the local and regional levels. When an organ becomes available, they contact UNOS, which generates and maintains the national transplant waiting list. UNOS then generates a list of potential recipients — the people who are the right blood type, height and weight, and who have been waiting the longest or who are the sickest. The local agency then notifies the physician that the patient is being offered an organ.

Do famous or wealthy people have a better chance of getting an organ?

There is no favoritism in the system as it stands now. These listing criteria and practices and supervision of the process have evolved over the last 27-plus years. So everybody has an equal shot at getting an organ once they get on the UNOS list. Some medical issues do come into play — for instance, heart or liver failure patients who are expected to die within 30 days get priority over people who have chronic stable heart failure or liver disease. But there isn’t any way to jump the list except by the criteria of how sick you are, what your blood type is and how rare it is, and special medical circumstances.

Do lifestyle factors influence who gets organs?

I personally don’t see that our job is to judge people based upon past mistakes, but we are concerned about people who show an inability to change the behavior that led to the organ damage. If a person is actively smoking or drinking, for example, we consider that as a behavior issue that must be changed before that person would be considered for a transplant. There are so many people who would do anything to get an organ that it doesn’t make sense to offer organs to those who aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to improve their health. Patients must also demonstrate compliance with the complex regimens — exercise, medications and diet — prescribed by their physicians. Continue reading

Gift of Life: An Organ Donor’s Story

In addition to overseeing Rush’s abdominal transplant program, Rachel Thomas has experienced the transformative effect of transplant firsthand.

Nearly seven years ago, Thomas — who is service line and program administrator, solid organ transplant, hepatology and nephrology — donated one of her own kidneys to be transplanted into her husband at the time, who previously had spent 13 years on dialysis due to focal segmental glomerulosclersosi (FSGS).

“We had a baby, and I knew the quality of life for my entire family would improve,” says Thomas, MBA, BSN, RN, CNN. “We’d been working our life around being at a dialysis center three days a week.”

Thomas underwent a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure to donate her kidney, spent less than a day in the hospital and went back to work eight days later. She also had a second child after making her donation, and the entire family has remained in good health since, and although he and Thomas eventually divorced, she’s glad she could provide him with his life-changing gift.

“I’m grateful that my kids’ lives aren’t built around seeing their dad’s illness,” she says.

Not surprisingly, Thomas is a strong advocate for organ donation, especially for kidney donation by living donors. “Donations by living donors always have better outcomes and better survival rates than donations from deceased donors. Living donors also have an emotional investment in the other person, which enhances quality of life and survival,” Thomas says. “If my husband had received a deceased donor kidney, that would have been one less kidney out there for someone else, so I’ve kind of saved two lives,” she adds.

Thomas encourages people to register to be organ donors, which can be done online at Donate Life Illinois.

Donate Blood at Rush, Pay It Forward

Donating bloodBy Malissa Lichtenwalter

Please join us for the American Red Cross blood drive sponsored by Rush University Medical Center on Thursday, Jan. 7, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in room 994 of the Armour Academic Center.

All donors presenting at an American Red Cross blood drive in January are eligible to enter its “Pay It Forward” raffle, with one lucky person winning $1,500 to apply toward rent, mortgage and/or utilities.

To schedule an appointment, please go to and enter ZIP code 60612.

Remember to eat a healthy meal and drink plenty of water prior to donating.
Appointments preferred. Walk-ins welcome. Photo ID needed.

In addition to this blood drive, we encourage employees and visitors to contact the Rush Blood Center Monday through Friday by phone (ext. 2-6680) or e-mail ( to schedule a whole blood or platelet donation. Donations at the Rush Blood Center go directly to Rush patients.

Remember, you can provide a lifetime of tomorrows for those who need blood. Please schedule your donation today.

Rush Resources:

Malissa Lichtenwalter is an Apheresis blood donor recruiter with the Rush Blood Center.

Brian’s Story: After Kidney Tranplant, a ‘New Man’

By Cari Kornblit

For 25 years, Brian, a 49-year-old husband and father of two daughters, struggled with chronic kidney disease. By late 2008, Brian’s kidney disease had progressed to the point that his kidneys were failing. He needed to start considering a kidney transplant.

Brian began asking around to find out which hospital he should choose for his transplant. A vice president of a real estate development company, Brian asked the company’s president to get a recommendation from contacts he had at a Chicago hospital. Brian also spoke to a former co-worker and friend who had received a kidney transplant at Rush University Medical Center. He heard the same answer from both — go to Rush. Brian says what really swayed him to choose Rush was the personalized attention that he and his family received right away.

Earlier this year, a Rush transplant team led by surgeon Edward Hollinger, MD, performed a minimally invasive laparoscopic donor nephrectomy on his daughter, Kristina, to remove one of her kidneys, then transplanted the kidney into Brian. Here’s their story.

Rush Resources:

Cari Kornblit is a writer at Rush. She is a Pittsburgh native who worked for a hospital system in China for two years before coming to Rush.