Health + Behavior

UCLA Kidney Transplant Program leads the nation in numbers — and vision

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All Kidneys are Pink graphic
UCLA Health

UCLA Health kidney transplant doctors and the system of organ allocation in the nation are both colorblind. They understand the importance of equity and diversity in organ allocation.

All kidneys are pink. The human beings in which they’re housed can have various skin colors, attend various places of worship, have various political affiliations and live in various parts of the country. But their kidneys? They are all, quite simply, pink.

No one knows this better than transplant professionals, including kidney transplant doctors, who have transformed the field of organ donation over the past few decades — not to mention the nation’s acceptance of it. In 2017, physicians in the United States performed almost 20,000 kidney transplants, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

UCLA Health kidney transplant doctors and the system of organ allocation in the nation are both colorblind — and with good reason. They know the number of people waiting for a lifesaving transplant, and they understand the importance of equity and diversity in organ allocation. In fact, the UCLA Kidney Transplant Program performed a staggering 363 kidney transplants in 2017, more than any other U.S. transplant center, according to the data.

“Without a doubt, we have one of the most active kidney programs in the nation,” said Dr. H. Albin Gritsch, surgical director of kidney transplantation and a clinical professor of urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Even more important, we continue to make innovations to improve the chances for a successful kidney transplant. We’re never satisfied.”

UCLA Health
Transplant surgery at UCLA

Living donor transplants, kidney exchanges, kidney chains, incompatible blood types, sensitized immune systems, re-transplants, infant recipients — nothing seems too complicated for this UCLA team. So focused on saving lives are these professionals, they have pioneered the “kidney vouchers program” in which living donors can donate a kidney in the present when convenient, and a loved one receives a “voucher” and priority for a kidney transplant in the future when needed. Forty-four centers have followed UCLA’s lead, joining the National Kidney Registry’s “voucher program”; to date, 29 vouchers have been issued (with two vouchers redeemed) throughout the country.

“The field is always evolving — with better medications, more effective care regimens and more refined surgical techniques,” said Dr. Gabriel Danovitch, medical director of UCLA’s kidney transplant program and distinguished professor of medicine at the Geffen School. “The result is that more lives are being saved and enhanced.”

UCLA kidney specialists have even transplanted some kidneys twice in a rare procedure they call “regifting.” In this surgery, a kidney previously donated to one person is re-donated to a new patient after the initial recipient dies, saving yet another life.

Such procedures are little known, but shouldn’t be, UCLA doctors say. Regifting, rather than discarding, a previously transplanted kidney saves the life of another patient waiting on dialysis.

In one such procedure, a white teenage girl’s kidney was donated to a Latino man in his 20s and, when he died in a motor vehicle accident two years later, the kidney was regifted to an African-American woman in her late 60s.

“I wish society could put on glasses to see people the way a transplant surgeon does, as we’re more similar than we are different,” said Dr. Jeffrey Veale, associate professor of urology at the Geffen School. He explains further in this video, aptly titled: “All Kidneys Are Pink.”

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