Lee Memorial Health System is temporarily suspending its kidney transplant program at Gulf Coast Hospital in Fort Myers while working to restructure and hire new staff. The move comes a year after the health system stopped performing kidney transplants with living donors following the death of a donor.
Health system officials announced the suspension of its transplant program using organs from deceased donors Friday morning. Transplant surgeon Dr. Lynsey Biondi was hired in March as LMHS’s new director of transplantation services. She calls the revamp “a complete rebuild.”
“We are going from a private practice model to an in-hospital model,” said Dr. Biondi. “We’re bringing in both myself and another surgeon. We have an offer out to a very renowned transplant nephrologist and we’ll be bringing in a second transplant nephrologist as well so this will be a hospital employed team.”
Four new support staff positions are also being created. The remodeling of the program will suspend deceased donor transplants for one to three months. The restructuring is guided by the United Network for Organ Sharing which oversees all transplant programs throughout the country.
Dr. Biondi said staff is working to minimize the impact on local patients.
“We had just under 300 patients on our waiting list, so those patients will be inactive temporarily,” said Biondi. “They will continue to be able to gain time on the list and anyone who wants to be transferred to another center can be transferred and then can transfer back when we reopen.”
Dr. Biondi says staff is calling all the patients currently on the waiting list to organize their care during the restructuring and that agreements with other transplant centers for some patients have already been made.
“In reality, if we’re only closed for one to three months, that’s not that many transplants that would have happened anyway, so we’re hoping that it’s not going to affect too many people.”
The cost of the program rebuild including hiring new staff and clinic redesign comes in at about $4 million according to the health system’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Scott Nygaard. Dr. Biondi says the first priority is to get back to performing transplants with deceased donors. Officials aren’t sure when they’ll be applying to reactivate their program with living donors, but that it could be sometime this fall.
Kidney transplants with living donors was suspended in April 2015 after Cape Coral resident John Donaldson died from blood loss after donating a kidney to his father. LMHS officials are working with the United Network for Organ Sharing to restructure that program as well including extended policies covering the selection of eligible donors.
“There will be a committee and there will be more redundancy which is what the United Network for Organ Sharing wants to see,” says Dr. Biondi.
“So if a surgeon evaluates a patient as well as a nephrologist evaluates a patient, those aren’t the only two people sitting on the committee to help decide whether that patient’s appropriate. Another transplant surgeon, another nephrologist will be on that committee. So we’re adding levels of redundancy to make sure we’re not missing things.”
Donaldson’s family filed a malpractice suit in March against Dr. Barry Blitz who performed the surgery and against his employer, 21st Century Oncology. Dr. Blitz is not an employee of LMHS, but was contracted to work with the transplant team.
Donaldson’s father recovered after successfully receiving his son’s kidney.