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Pediatric heart, liver transplant programs reach new milestones

Jan. 16, 2020, 11:16 AM


by Jessica Pasley

Two transplant programs at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt reached milestones in 2019 for performing record numbers of heart and liver transplantations in a calendar year.

In 2019, the heart transplant program performed 22 surgeries, placing it among the top five largest programs in the country. The liver program finished the year with 16 transplantations, which ranked it among the top 15 programs nationally.

As one of the original pediatric heart transplant programs started 30 years ago, Children’s Hospital has continued to rank among the best.

“There were only about six programs in the late ’80s that started transplanting infants and small children,” said Debra Dodd, MD, professor of Pediatrics and medical director of the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program at Children’s Hospital.

“We linked together as a group and learned from each other and shared our successes, which helped safely advance the care faster and more effectively than if we did it as individual centers.

“We are now the center for this area in the country for heart transplants. We transplant a higher-risk patient population and continue to have superior outcomes,” she said.

With 40% of transplants occurring in patients younger than 1 year old, Dodd said she is beginning to see another high-volume group — teenagers. She points to the success of congenital heart surgery programs, which provide advanced treatments that lead to better quality of life and survival rates.

Adult congenital heart is the fastest growing segment in cardiology, as more than 85% of children born with congenital heart defects survive to adulthood.

“As our congenital heart population expands and will continue to grow because of the success of congenital heart surgery, we are seeing more of that patient population move into transplant. It’s transformative for the group of patients who not too long ago had few options.”

Children’s Hospital is building a reputation for liver transplantation as well.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Division of Hepatobiliary Surgery is led by Sophoclis Alexopoulos, MD, who joined the team in 2017.

One of his goals was to build on the work of his predecessors and focus on offering pediatric patients with liver disease broader access to transplantation.

“Our program growth is multifactorial,” said Alexopoulos. “We have built our confidence transplanting small babies and have started a living donor liver transplant program as well. We are taking on higher-risk cases and experiencing excellent outcomes.

“The majority of children needing transplants in Tennessee are being treated at Children’s Hospital. We are developing into a regional provider for pediatric liver transplantation.”

Liver patients come to Vanderbilt from areas outside of Tennessee including Kentucky, Mississippi, Northern Alabama, Northern Louisiana and Western North Carolina.

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