UF&Shands reactivates adult, pediatric liver transplant programs

UF&Shands, the University of Florida Academic Health Center, has reactivated its adult and pediatric liver transplant programs and can resume performing liver transplants immediately, officials said today.

The United Network for Organ Sharing approved the reactivation on Friday, April 20. UNOS is the private, nonprofit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system and the national transplant waiting list under contract with the federal government.

UF&Shands leaders voluntarily suspended their adult and pediatric liver transplant programs and pancreas transplant program in August 2011 after several key transplant surgeons were recruited by medical centers in larger, more urban areas. The institution’s other organ transplant programs were not affected and remained operational.

“As always, our commitment to our patients is the No. 1 priority,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “Transplantation programs combine highly skilled, interdisciplinary medical teams, heroic organ donors, donors’ families and a commitment to excellence. It is an honor to be able to help patients in this way, and we take the responsibility very seriously.”

Key to the reactivation of the liver transplant program was the arrival on March 4 of Jeffrey Fair, M.D., who became the new chief of the division of transplantation surgery in the UF College of Medicine’s department of surgery. The division focuses on transplantation of abdominal organs, including the kidneys, liver and pancreas.

Fair, a nationally renowned liver, kidney and pancreas transplant surgeon, most recently worked at the Comprehensive Transplant Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He also served as a professor of surgery at the University of California Los Angeles.

“Our transplant programs have earned a stellar reputation with our long-standing commitment and service to transplant patients from across the state,” said Kevin Behrns, M.D., chair of the department of surgery. “This enabled us to recruit a top-caliber transplant chief while maintaining outstanding relationships with our patients and peer transplant centers during this transition.”

UF&Shands leaders also plan to reactivate the pancreas transplant program this summer, after they hire another pancreas transplant surgeon and receive approval from UNOS.

With Fair, UF&Shands has three experienced and highly trained abdominal transplant surgeons. Ivan Zendejas, M.D., a UF assistant professor of surgery, is an expert in multi-organ transplantation of the liver, kidney and pancreas; and Thomas G. Peters, M.D., a professor of transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery at UF and the Methodist Medical Center Professor of Surgery at the UF College of Medicine–Jacksonville, specializes in kidney transplantation. Department of surgery leaders say they plan to hire three more liver and pancreas transplant surgeons.

“Our goal now is to complement the existing transplant team with at least three more surgeons who are credentialed to perform both liver and pancreas transplants,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine.

Transplant teams are now working to assist liver transplant patients who wish to return to UF&Shands for care. During the deactivation period, UF&Shands continued to provide post-transplant care for patients.

“Special thanks go to all our transplant colleagues, including our dedicated faculty and our exceptional transplant coordinators, who provided continued support to patients and their families,” said Tim Goldfarb, chief executive officer of Shands. “Thanks to them, many patients who have transitioned to other transplant centers and still await transplants may return to Shands for transplant care.”

Fair said the UF liver and pancreas transplant teams at UF&Shands remain strong and will continue to grow.

“UF possesses the depth of clinical and academic excellence to rebuild an outstanding liver transplant program,” Fair said. “We are committed to developing all our transplant services to make UF&Shands the state’s premier provider with national consequence and fulfill our mission as an academic medical center, providing outstanding patient care, education and innovation in discovery.”

– By Laura Mize