Memorial Hospital hits milestone with kidney transplants


When 16-year-old Jermaine Toomer suffered a terrible headache and began vomiting, he went to an urgent care center for help. But after an antibiotic only made him worse, Toomer ended up in kidney failure at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.

Today, Toomer, considers himself fortunate to be the first of 50 people who have had kidney transplants at the Memorial Transplant Institute in Hollywood. After only 14 months, the only transplant center in Broward County that serves both adult and pediatric patients marked the milestone of 50 transplants by bringing the doctors and patients together to talk about their experiences. Memorial Transplant Institute is based at Memorial Regional Hospital and includes Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

“I am thankful not to have to be stuck to a machine the rest of my life getting dialysis,” Toomer said on Monday, adding that he now wants to become a paramedic and save lives.

Dr. Juan Arenas, surgical kidney transplant chief of the Memorial Transplant Institute, said Memorial has had a life-saving impact in a short period time because of physicians in the area who are referring patients. While Memorial is one of three hospitals in the region doing kidney transplants, “there still is not enough. There are people who are dying on the waiting list.”

Toomer’s kidney came from a donation specifically designated for child at Joe DiMaggio hospital. But Allan Gottesman, 65, spoke Monday about his experience as the 49th recipient of a kidney transplant last week from a living donor, Lorie Matlick, a nurse and his close friend. Gottesman saw his kidneys failing as a result of chemotherapy many years earlier and recognized the need for a transplant.

“It was time. I was lethargic, anemic and my color was changing … I was getting gray,” he said. Gottesman’s wife mentioned to Matlick that he was going to get on a waiting list for a kidney, and she offered to be the donor.

“The process is as simple as filling out an application and doing some tests,” Matlick said. “Either you are a match, or not.”

Arenas said the kidney is laparoscopically removed from the living donor, who typically leaves the hospital within two days. “If you are a compatible blood type and your antigens are not reactive, you are good to go as a donor,” he said.

Of the 50 transplants at Memorial, five came from living donors. Arenas said nationally, at least half of the child recipients get a kidney donation from a living family member. Also, kidneys from donor strangers under age 35 tend to go to children. Kidneys from young, healthy donors tend to be good for 20 or more years. Donated kidneys from older adults tend to be good for about 15 or more years.

Along with Toomer and Gottesman, Jeny Cahua, whose daughter received the most recent kidney transplant at Memorial — patient 50 — was effusive in praise of the Institute, its surgeons and hospital staff. Teary-eyed, Cahua said, “They gave VIP treatment to my daughter who was asking, ‘why is this happening to me?’”

Transplant surgery is a team effort, said Arenas. It takes nurses, surgeons and other staff — to get transplant recipients through their procedures and keep the risk of infection at bay.

There are 93,000 people across the country waiting for an organ transplant. The average time for waiting can be three to five years and even longer in some geographical regions of the country, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which maintains the wait list. People typically get on the transplant list when their kidneys are below 20 percent of full functioning. Each state maintains its own donor bank.

Memorial also performs pediatric and adult heart transplants. A future goal for the hospital is to help patients with diseased livers get new organs, starting with pediatrics.

“There is a significant need for dual transplants, which is why we want to provide that as well,” said Memorial nephrologist and medical director Fernando Pedraza Taborda.

Memorial surgeons said the milestone achievement with kidney transplants coincides with National Donate a Life month, noting that living donors give transplant recipients the best health outcome., 954-356-4661, Twitter and Instagram @cindykgoodman


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