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UF loses transplant chief, liver-pancreas section

Only a few months after taking the job, the chief of transplants at University of Florida has left, along with two other surgeons from the liver and pancreas program. The combined departures forced a temporary shutdown of the liver-pancreas section.

Raja Kandaswamy, the Robert H. and Kathleen M. Axline Professor of Surgery and chief of transplantation, had been welcomed to UF earlier this year to establish an Institute of Transplantation and direct the program. His swift departure was unexplained.

He returned to University of Minnesota, where his assistant said today that he was in surgery and no one else could speak on his reasons for leaving UF.

The two other surgeons who recently left UF, Liise Kayler and Joseph Magliocca, had been there since 2007.

At UF, Magliocca had been surgical director of pancreas transplantation as well as adult and pediatric liver transplantation, according to his faculty profile at Emory University.

Reached by e-mail, Magliocca said the shutdown "is very sad for both UF and the patients they serve. That being said, I would prefer not to comment on the circumstances surrounding my departure and I am certainly not in the position to comment on the departure of others."

The departures were unexpected and unrelated, said Timothy Goldfarb, Shands HealthCare CEO. He said it's not uncommon for transplant surgeons to move frequently and that summer is typically the best time for a move.

Since only one surgeon remained in the liver-pancreas section, he said, it was prudent to close temporarily.

“When you get this thin…it’s better to deactivate,” he said.

Of the 125 patients in the program, 68 are on the UNOS transplant waiting list, according to a release on the Shands website. The others were at UF being evaluated.

The closing of the liver-pancreas section does not affect UF transplant programs for hearts, lungs or other organs, Shands said.

Goldfarb said he is actively recruiting surgeons so that the program can reopen. He hopes to find one who already has a Florida medical license, he said, since that would avoid a three- to four-month delay.

Kandaswamy, an expert on pancreas transplantation and multi-organ abdominal transplants, was doing research on islet cells -- the ones in the pancreas that produce the hormones insulin and glucagon. Removing a patient's pancreas results in diabetes. To prevent this, Kandaswamy was studying ways to take healthy islet cells before removing the pancreas and implanting them into the patient's liver, where they would resume insulin production, if all went well.

A request to UF's Health Sciences Center for more information on Kandaswamy's departure was pending this afternoon.