September 25, 2009

Former transplant patients, caregivers embrace at reunion

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Former patient Rod Rodrigue and his wife, Beulah, hand out Mardi Gras beads at the Vanderbilt Transplant Center’s recent reunion. (photo by Tommy Lawson)

Former transplant patients, caregivers embrace at reunion

When Rod Rodrigue left Nashville in the fall of 1995 to return to his home in Houma, La., he had a new lease on life and a new motto to go along with it.

“I came out of the hospital with a new liver, a new life and a new wife,” laughed Rodrigue, 78. “I had to wait until I got home to marry, but I did it all in the same month.”

Rodrigue, a U.S. military veteran, had been given little hope of recovery after battling cirrhosis of the liver. It was upon the suggestion of his future wife that he reached out to his local VA hospital. Within two months, Rodrigue was placed on the liver transplant waiting list.

“I was going in and out of comas,” Rodrigue said. “I was rushed by air ambulance up to the Nashville VA, and three weeks later I was transplanted. I can't say enough about our doctors and the people at Vanderbilt and the VA. They are all just like family.”

That sense of community has kept the Rodrigues coming back to Nashville for 14 years to reunite with former patients, physicians and staff of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center.

In the past, separate events were held for each organ group. But in celebration of its 20th anniversary, a center-wide reunion was held Sept. 12 on Magnolia Lawn on the Vanderbilt/Peabody campus. More than 1,000 people attended.

“We plan his yearly checkup around the reunion so we can see everyone,” said Beulah Rodrigue, 80. “It's just like a family reunion. We are Cajuns, so we love people and just hug on them,” she laughed.

“When you have a life-threatening ordeal like we went through, you have this new feeling of being very, very thankful,” she added.

The Transplant Center reunion drew more than 1,000 people. (photo by Tommy Lawson)

The Transplant Center reunion drew more than 1,000 people. (photo by Tommy Lawson)

Wright Pinson, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, agreed that a sense of gratitude is one of the reasons so many patients return to VTC each year.
But he said that VTC provides services many other centers do not.

“Our staff is really tuned in to our patients and we have a culture of a higher level of service to our patients than most places,” said Pinson. “I think that is probably the most important reason why our patients are so loyal and come back. It's the way people who work at the Transplant Center treat our patients.”

Pinson also credited the value-added services like a transplant psychiatrist, pharmacy and return-to-work programs with VTC's success.

“Collectively our patients are a very positive group of people, but in the end, it's the bond we have developed that keeps us all connected.”