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Kidney and Kidney-Pancreas Transplant Patients Receive Leading-Edge, Personalized Care

MaryLou Krippner and Yolanda Becker, MD
Kidney transplant recipient MaryLou Krippner, left, with transplant surgeon Yolanda T. Becker, MD, director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program.

August 15, 2011, seemed like just another day for MaryLou Krippner. The Lisle, Ill., resident had already worked a full day when she received a phone call: The new kidney she had awaited since 2006 might become available that night. Six hours later, she learned the kidney would be hers, and by the end of the next day Krippner was at the University of Chicago Medicine with a new, functioning kidney. Five years of home dialysis and kidney failure had come to an end.

No one knows why Krippner’s kidneys stopped working, but for 25 percent of kidney transplant patients, kidney failure is a complication of diabetes. And of the growing number of patients who receive a combined kidney-pancreas transplant at the University of Chicago Medicine, almost all have diabetes.

Kidneys clean the blood by continually filtering out waste products, which then leave the body as urine. But when kidneys fail, wastes build to life-threatening levels. Patients eventually have only two options: have a dialysis machine clean their blood for the rest of their lives or pursue a kidney transplant.

When it came time to select a transplant center, Krippner, 54, knew she wanted to be at "an institution on the leading edge where they develop the next innovations in transplants." She chose the University of Chicago Medicine.

J. Michael Millis, MD J. Michael Millis, MD

"The University of Chicago Medicine is a transplant leader, which is important because patients -- especially those with diabetes -- may need many options, including multi-organ transplants like kidney-pancreas and even heart-liver-kidney," said J. Michael Millis, MD, chief of transplant surgery.

Every transplant patient is assigned to a personal transplant coordinator starting with the initial evaluation and continuing through the wait for a donor organ. "We create a personalized schedule for updating each patient's testing and visits so when the organ becomes available, we can move immediately," said Katrina Harmon, RN, MSN, CCTC, pre-transplant nurse coordinator. "This personalized care continues through the eventual hospitalization and follow-up with dedicated team members."

Yolanda T. Becker, MD, director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program, says this individualized approach is a University of Chicago Medicine hallmark. "We are growing our kidney-pancreas program, but not beyond providing this level of personalized, team-based care to complex patients," she said. "This is major surgery, and most patients gain profound quality of life improvements after the initial recovery."

This is what Tim Kramer, a kidney-pancreas transplant recipient from Lakewood, Ohio, experienced. The 38-year-old social worker, who has type 1 diabetes, had been waiting for donor organs for three years and on dialysis for five months.

"Dialysis was really hard. All I could do was work, dialysis and sleep," he said. Now, "I’ve already run a 10K and half-marathon since surgery. Running again has been the best gift of all."

Summer 2012

Imagine, Summer 2012

This story originally ran in the Summer 2012 issue of Imagine, a quarterly magazine published by the University of Chicago Medicine. » Read the latest issue

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