Beating the odds

Chicago statistician, 6th heart-kidney-pancreas transplant patient in U.S., to leave hospital today

May 12, 1998

On Tuesday, May 12, 1998, two days after Mother's Day, 53.5-year-old, triple-transplant patient Forrest Powers of Chicago will be discharged from the University of Chicago Hospitals.

On Palm Sunday, April 5, 1998, after 12.6 weeks of waiting in the hospital, the 53.5-year-old Powers became the sixth person in the United States to receive a transplanted heart, kidney, and pancreas.

This was the second time this combination of surgical procedures has ever been performed in Illinois. The first heart-kidney-pancreas transplant in the state was also performed at the University of Chicago Hospitals, on May 14, 1995 (Mother's Day), when Lisa Kick, then 37, received the same combination.

"The survival rate for this procedure, at this institution, is 100 percent--so far," notes Powers, a statistician and computer buff, who is also a 1977 graduate of the University's Graduate School of Business.

A compulsive calculator, Powers had computed his expected waiting time--based on age, blood type, severity of disease, medical urgency, and other factors--to be 154 days. He was pleased, however, to have beaten the odds and been transplanted in about half that time, 88 days after being admitted to the Hospital on January 8, 1998.

He had, somewhat ambitiously, predicted that he would leave the Hospitals 15 days after surgery. His actual stay required about twice that.

The operation, which went smoothly, began at about 5:45 a.m. on April 5, 1998. The cardiac transplant team, led by Mario Albertucci, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, performed the heart transplant first, finishing at 1 p.m. Then a second surgical team, led by David Bruce, MD, assistant professor of surgery and director of pancreas transplantation at the University of Chicago, transplanted the kidney and pancreas. They finished at 6:30 p.m. All three organs came from the same donor.

No information about the donor is available.

Powers has been awake and alert and breathing on his own since the day after the operation. Although he returned to the operating room briefly on the following Tuesday for some "touch-up work," the transplanted organs continue to perform normally, said cardiologist Allen Anderson, MD, assistant professor of medicine, who has managed Powers' care since the operation.

Powers suffered from diabetes, which destroyed the insulin-producing cells of his pancreas, leading to kidney damage and blocked coronary arteries, common complications of diabetes. His son, who also had diabetes, died from complications of the disease in 1995. Powers also has a daughter who lives in New Mexico.

For the 41 patients who received a kidney-pancreas transplant at the University of Chicago Hospitals in 1996 or 1997, "98 percent have a functioning kidney at least one year after transplant, and 95 percent have a functioning pancreas," emphasized Dr. Bruce, who directs the pancreas-transplant program.

The University of Chicago has been a leader in transplantation since the very beginning. In 1904, University of Chicago surgeon Alexis Carrel pioneered the surgical techniques of organ transplantation and performed the first heart transplant in a dog. Carrel won the Nobel Prize for this work in 1912.

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