September 21, 2001

VUMC receives national exposure for donor crisis

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Dr. Ravi Chari was interviewed Wednesday by Good Morning America’s Charles Gibson after organizing the transportation of a donated liver following the terrorist attack. (photo by Dana Johnson)

VUMC receives national exposure for donor crisis

With the skies cleared of air traffic last Tuesday following terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C., one lone plane flew from Nashville to Houston to save a child’s life thanks in part to the efforts of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center.

Dr. Ravi Chari, associate professor of Surgery and Cancer Biology, was aware of the terrorist attacks when he went into the operating room shortly after 8 a.m. Sept. 11 to recover a liver from a small child. He soon worried there would be no way to transport the organ to the recipient, a 6-month-old girl on transplant Status 1 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Within minutes, all commercial and private aircraft were grounded.

“It galvanized our resolve,” Chari told Charles Gibson, host of ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday. He had earlier told The Tennessean, “We can’t let them win. If we don’t get (the liver) to this person, they’ll have killed someone else.”

Chari set a chain of communication in motion. He contacted Houston surgeons and verified the recipient’s organ match, then called Tennessee Donor Services. There, Jill Maxfield called the Federal Aviation Administration to receive special instructions. The FAA contacted the Tennessee Air National Guard, which sprang to action.

Chari successfully removed the liver and it was transported by ground to the military’s C-130 cargo plane. On Wednesday’s TV appearance, the recipient squirmed happily in her mother’s arms.

“Dr. Chari and the Vanderbilt transplant team, as well as TDS, are to be commended for their professionalism and dedication to patient care, even in the face of a national disaster,” said Dr. Wright C. Pinson, H. William Scott Professor and chairman of the department of Surgery and surgical director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center. “The measures they took are exemplary. It is, however, usual for this transplant team to perform in an exceptional fashion.”

“Everyone – the transplant team at Vanderbilt, Tennessee Donor Services, the pilots – all came together to help bring about an opportunity for a child that at one point looked futile,” Chari said. n