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University of Minnesota Health lung transplant team has record-setting year

The 29-year-old program is one of the largest and most successful lung transplantation programs in the nation.
Members of the University of Minnesota Health lung transplant program performed 52 transplants in 2014, which is a record for the 29-year-old program. The program is one of the largest and most successful lung transplantation programs in the nation.

The surgeons and staff of the University of Minnesota Health lung transplant program set a program record in 2014, when they performed a total of 52 lung transplant surgeries.

The total is a new high water mark for the 29-year-old program, which is one of the largest and most successful lung transplantation programs in the nation. Since its founding in 1986, the program’s surgeons have performed nearly 800 lung and heart-lung transplants in children and adults, with survival rates significantly higher than the national average.

“This is the product of a lot of hard work and planning that occurred over the past several years,” said Cardiothoracic Surgeon Gabe Loor, MD, who performed the record-setting 50th transplant in mid-December. This surpassed the program’s previous annual record of 49 transplants in 2006, according to Pulmonologist Marshall Hertz, MD, the director of the lung transplantation program.

Loor, who also performed the Midwest’s first breathing lung transplant in 2013, joined University of Minnesota Health in 2013, bringing the total number of M Health lung transplant surgeons to four. His arrival is certainly a factor in the recent growth, Hertz said, but it is only one facet of the program’s development.

The addition of three donor coordinators, who evaluate potential donor organs and connect the dots between hospitals and third-party organ procurement organizations like LifeSource, is key for the growing transplantation program, according to Cardiothoracic Surgeon Rosemary Kelly, MD.

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The availability of viable donor organs also has an effect on the number of lung transplant procedures the program is able to perform.

Kelly, Loor and Cardiovascular Surgeon Sara Shumway, MD, say tighter coordination with immunologists and pulmonologists serving on the transplantation care team, the wide variety of clinical trials available to M Health patients suffering from lung conditions, innovative research and strong leadership within the program have contributed to the success.

“Our success in lung transplantation would not have been possible without the efforts and dedication of the transplant team and our incredibly supportive transplant administration,” Loor said.

“I don’t see this as a one-year phenomenon,” Kelly said. “We have the foundation and now we have the infrastructure and we’re growing in a very thoughtful, programmatic way to make it sustainable.”

Though the M Health lung transplant program has been well-established regionally and nationally for years, the number of successful transplants performed in 2014 reinforces the program’s status nationwide, Hertz said. Only a small number of centers in the United States perform more lung transplants annually than University of Minnesota Health.

The program’s research activities have likewise expanded. This year the lung transplant program had six abstracts accepted for presentation at the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplant in Nice, France.

“I think one thing it signifies is that we have a really stable and mature team. This doesn't come about just by accident. There are a lot of people doing incredibly complicated jobs very well and we have a lot of enthusiastic younger doctors in the program,” Hertz said.