Lafayette kidney program fills a need

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 29, 2009

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Just a few years ago, Amber Chalee would probably have had her kidney transplant in New Orleans. That was where the closest hospital with a kidney transplant program.

But a program begun after Hurricane Katrina temporarily stopped kidney transplants in New Orleans let her receive her mother’s kidney Dec. 10 at the University Medical Center in Lafayette.

Chalee, 27, of Youngsville, was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2000. Her kidneys stopped working entirely during her 27th week of pregnancy in 2003. After an emergency Caesarean section, Chalee began dialysis.

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She was well enough two years later to stop the treatments, only to have her condition worsen again last year.

‘‘We opted for the transplant, instead of going back on dialysis,’’ she said. Her kidney specialist, Dr. Andy Blalock suggested that she have the surgery done at UMC.

Fully recovered, Chalee is working on her nursing credentials at Lafayette Technical College.

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, no Louisiana hospital south of Shreveport offered kidney transplants, said Dr. James Falterman, associate dean of the LSU Medical School for Lafayette Affairs and the medical director at UMC, which is also part of the LSU system.

Coincidentally, Dr. Dan Frey, a transplant surgeon, had moved to UMC shortly before the storm.

The transplant program at UMC ‘‘just kind of evolved in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,’’ Frey said. ‘‘Patients were calling and asking where to go. I went to the administration and they approved it and we started it.’’

It quickly won accreditation from Medicare and the United Network of Organ Sharing.

Frey has transplanted about 65 kidneys since the first at UMC, in December 2005.

It means patients in the area don’t have to travel across the state for major surgery. Follow-up care and yearly check-ups are within an easy drive. The transplant team is also able to work more closely with the physicians like Blalock, who normally provide their medical care.

There is, however, one major hurdle the UMC program is facing.

‘‘The struggles of the program is that we have only Dr. Frey and one surgeon can do just so much. It’s very labor-intensive. Danny’s on 24/7, night and day for transplant patients,’’ Falterman said.

Although the hospital has been trying to recruit another transplant surgeon, Falterman said he hasn’t committed to joining the UMC staff, yet.

The lack of another surgeon could potentially threaten the program, but hospital officials are working to keep it going. ‘‘We have some options we’re looking at, right now,’’ Dorsey said. ‘‘We’ll do everything possible to continue the service.’’


Information from: The Advertiser,