June 15, 2001

Helderman appointed to national organ advisory committee

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Dr. J. Harold Helderman

Helderman appointed to national organ advisory committee

Vanderbilt University Medical Center will play a major role in crafting the nation’s organ donation and transplantation policy now that Dr. J. Harold Helderman, medical director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center and professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, is a member of the Advisory Committee on Organ Transplantation.

The committee’s function is to advise Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson on all aspects of organ procurement, allocation and transplantation including independent review and advice on policies developed by the nation’s transplantation network.

“Many of us on the advisory panel are extraordinarily pleased with the opportunity to work with Secretary Tommy Thompson, who has made organ transplant and donation the centerpiece of his work,” Helderman said.

“He understands many of the concerns of the patients and families as well as the transplant community. This relationship will be a most constructive one because it offers me a chance to further enhance my and Vanderbilt’s capacity to help our citizens.”

Helderman is not a novice when it comes to national health care issues. As the past president of the American Society of Transplant Physicians, he was thrust into the role of discussing and molding national policy concerning transplantation with members of Congress and other federal agencies.

With organ transplantation policies coming under fire recently, Helderman said he is ready to take on the responsibility of reviewing the proposals handed down by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). National transplant policies are developed by the OPTN for approval by the Department of Health and Human Services. The advisory committee’s job is to examine the OPTN’s proposals and make recommendations to the HHS Secretary before final action is taken.

Other tasks of the advisory committee include reviewing the OPTN’s system of collecting, disseminating and ensuring the validity, accuracy, timeliness and usefulness of data. Other scientific, medical, public health, ethical, legal, coverage and financing and socioeconomic issues, as well as national and international policy and developments relevant to transplantation will also be considered by this committee.

“ I feel that I can make an important contribution to enhancing organ donation and help determine a fair and efficacious use of organs to bring new life and better quality of life to our citizens,” said Helderman, who admits he is both flattered and honored by the appointment.

While serving his four-year term, Helderman has three goals.

“First and foremost, I want to continue to enhance organ donation,” he said. “Second, I want to continue to teach policy makers that a policy that sounds reasonable for one organ may be incorrect for others. ‘One policy fits all’ is a major error.

“And third, I want to continue to advise the secretary about how innovations and transplant basic research should alter how we view transplant. This is driven by science and practice.”

Helderman, driven by the concerns that have grown out of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center and its mission, said he is ready to get to work on directing national transplant policy.

In the meantime, he will continue working with Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs and Dr. C. Wright Pinson, professor of Surgery and surgical director of the Transplant Center, in formulating Vanderbilt’s position on these matters while ensuring that the concerns of the patients and families are heard.