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MUSC Health - Transplant Program - Mid-Carolinas Changes The Geography of Transplantation in South Carolina

Advance With MUSC Health
April 18, 2022
Operating room with computer monitor in the foreground.

MUSC Health Lancaster Medical Center’s new kidney transplant program launched this month, an exciting addition for the state. Here to talk about the importance of reaching community members in this area who are in dire need of life-saving kidney transplant is the Director of Transplant Services and Medical Director of Kidney Transplant, Dr. Prince Mohan Anand. Kidney Program Manager Natalie Wessels also contributed to the interview. 

Why is this new addition to South Carolina an important one? 
Access. Organs must be transported quickly. In order to get a kidney from a deceased donor to a patient in a timely fashion and avoid organ waste, patients who have the easiest, closest access to a transplant hospital are prioritized. There are other factors that are carefully considered, but that’s one of them. This new center makes kidney transplant much more accessible to patients in and around Lancaster. 

Opportunity. The center has tremendous potential to serve patients due to its geographical proximity to Charlotte. Being so close to Charlotte’s vast population and hospitals means more donors. Transplant hospitals located within a 280-mile radius are prioritized by donor hospitals, so this positions us favorably. Charlotte is the second-biggest city in the Southeast, so we are excited about the opportunity that brings for our patients. 

How will the patient process in Lancaster differ from Charleston’s? 
Here, we offer a one-stop-shop evaluation, which is a huge win for the patient. After an initial virtual visit, we’ll schedule an in-person visit to take care of all of their testing at the same time, all in one day.

In addition, many patients will have the option to go home after surgery. In Charleston, if patients travel for a kidney transplant, they need local accommodations for post-surgery appointments. But now with access to a transplant center that accommodates patients in this area, there’s no need to travel several hours and stay elsewhere. They can recover in the comfort of home. 

How is the launch going so far? 
We are busy calling patients — we have called 150 patients so far, and they’re very, very excited. These are patients who are listed in Charleston but who live in our area, or in the vicinity of Fort Mill, Rock Hill, Florence, Columbia. We’ve reached out to a lot of dialysis units and local nephrology groups, and everyone is very excited by the fact that we’re opening here, that there will be more options available for patients.

For example, we spoke with a 19-year-old patient who’d never been referred for kidney transplant, so he was super excited to have the opportunity to get on the kidney transplant list. So, we’re definitely filling a need in the area. Even an hour out, we visited dialysis centers where patients want to be listed and now they finally have the chance because we’re in their backyard. 

Do you accept both living and deceased donors? 
Yes, we’re going to start a living donor program in Lancaster in the next few months. For now, we have the approval for cadaver, or deceased, donors. Until our program launches, if there are patients who want a living donor they will go to Charleston and get transplanted there. And then they will come back and all of their care will be done in Lancaster. 

What message do you have for potential donor recipients? 
When Spiderman’s uncle dies, he says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Whenever I think of that, I think of kidney transplant. It’s a great opportunity. It gives you the power to live normally, but it comes with the responsibility that you are responsible for that organ. You're not only responsible for that organ for yourself, you're also responsible for that organ because somebody has died to give you that organ, or somebody underwent a surgery they did not need to give you their organ. So, it is not only your responsibility toward yourself, but also it is your responsibility toward society to take care of that organ.

The only reason people are able to get transplanted is because of donors and donor families, so I want to say thanks to everybody in the community who plays a part in saving our patients’ lives and livelihoods. It is only possible because of the kindheartedness of donors and donor families. 

What would you say to someone considering living donation?
We will make sure that you qualify to be a living donor. You will go through the same process as a recipient to make sure that you can live a happy, healthy life with one kidney. And the American Society of Transplantation, the American Society of Transplant Surgeons — we’re all working hard to make sure that donors don't have to pay out of pocket for the process. And that if there are any unpaid expenses and things like that, they can be covered.

So yes, if somebody wants to be a donor, first of all, I want to say thank you for considering that. And secondly, I want to say that if you donate, it is our responsibility that you do well after transplantation. So, we will be there supporting you not only just during transportation but after transplantation as well. 

How do you think the program is changing what’s possible?
It is changing the whole geography of transplantation for South Carolina and the Charlotte area. This area is a pretty rural area, and you can imagine that, for many, traveling 3.5 hours to Charleston for appointments and surgery isn’t feasible. It can cost a lot of money. So now when you have a transplant program right in your backyard, you don't have to travel 3.5 hours. If you live in Kershaw, you'll be here in 45 to 50 minutes. If you live in Florence, you'll be here in an hour. And you can park here with ease.

On a final note, Dr. Anand and Natalie Wessels remind everyone to get your regular cancer screenings, like pap smears, mammograms, colonoscopies, scheduled now. Detecting cancer early increases your ability to manage cancer more easily — and gives you more time to find a donor if necessary.

Schedule a visit with a provider here.