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  • May 13, 2021

    Living Donors Save Lives and Give Others a Second Chance at Life

    Washington D.C., — While COVID-19 continues to dominant the United States healthcare system, nearly 100,000 Americans are still on a waitlist for a kidney transplant and each day 12 patients die waiting for a kidney. National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Health Policy Director Miriam Godwin knows these statistics all too well and made the altruistic decision to take action and help others by becoming a living donor during National Donate Life Month in April. Like all incredibly selfless living donors, Godwin made a conscious choice to help others, but please don’t call her a hero.

    “It’s difficult to live with the knowledge that some of the most vulnerable people in our society such as the elderly, communities of color, and those with limited financial means are waiting for kidney transplants, especially when kidney patients have been at such exceptionally high risk from COVID-19,” said Miriam Godwin, NKF Health Policy Director and a kidney transplant living donor. “It’s my job to make kidney transplants more accessible, but the tools to create system-level change are limited and take time. No one should be denied the opportunity for kidney health because of the circumstances of their birth. I became a living donor because I knew I could help one person right now, so I did. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.”

    Health inequities in the U.S. are well-documented for Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander people, who are all at increased risk for developing kidney disease. Black or African American people comprise 13% of the U.S. population yet represent 35% of those on dialysis for kidney failure. Hispanic or Latino people are 1.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic or non-Latino people to have kidney failure. Additional risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and family history.

    “We consistently say the ability to save a life through living organ donation is within all of us, yet we’re uncertain if people hear our message. To have Miriam – someone who has supported the transplant community throughout her career with her work at NKF – choose to make this life saving gift is truly inspiring,” said Matthew Cooper, MD, Director, Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute and a member of NKF Board of Directors. “As the region’s leading transplant program, we are honored that Miriam purposely chose MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute on her journey to provide this gift of life.

    Approximately 785,000 Americans have irreversible kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. About 555,000 of these patients receive dialysis to replace kidney function, 230,000 live with a transplant. Depending on where a patient lives, the average wait time for a kidney transplant can be upwards of three to seven years. Living donations were responsible for a total of 5,726 transplants in 2020. Living organ donation not only saves lives, but it saves money too. Each year, Medicare spends approximately $89,000 per dialysis patient and less than half, $35,000, for a transplant.

    “Kidney disease is a public health crisis estimated to affect 37 million adults in the United States, yet 90% don’t even know they have it,” said Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation and a kidney transplant recipient. “Miriam doesn’t want to be considered special and just wants living donation to be more commonplace, but what she did is incredibly special. The demand for kidney transplantation is so great that we are asking all adults in the U. S. to be more like Miriam and consider becoming a living donor.”

    Miriam’s generous gift facilitated two transplants through a program called Paired Kidney Exchange. If a kidney patient and potential living donor don’t have compatible blood types, the donor may consider donating through this program and here’s how it works. If the recipient from one pair is compatible with the donor from the other pair, and vice versa– the transplant center may arrange for a "swap"–for two simultaneous transplants to take place. This allows two transplant candidates to receive organs and two donors to give organs although the original recipient/donor pairs were unable to do so with each other. This has been extended to allow chains of donors with multiple linked donor and recipient pairs, often facilitated by a good Samaritan donor, as Miriam did. These donations can take place within a single center or across the U.S., allowing these generous gifts to help many more patients in need.

    Please consider becoming a living donor. To learn more about living organ donation, and kidney disease, go to MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute or www.kidney.org/livingdonation.


    Kidney Disease Facts
    In the United States, 37 million adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease—and approximately 90 percent don’t know they have it.  1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are at risk for chronic kidney disease. Risk factors for kidney disease include: diabeteshigh blood pressureheart diseaseobesity, and family history. People of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease. Blacks or African Americans are almost 4 times more likely than White Americans to have kidney failure. Hispanics are 1.3 times more likely than non-Hispanics to have kidney failure.

    About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
    MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital licensed for 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C., Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options in a trusting and compassionate environment. MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer, and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership. The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute  is a top 10 highest volume transplant center in the nation for all organs (excluding thoracic); the regions’ only 5-tier liver transplant program for 1-year organ survival; is among the top 10 highest volume centers for kidney transplants and the second largest paired kidney exchange program (through the National Kidney Registry) in the country; is among the top 3 programs by volume for pancreas and pediatric liver transplants; and, is among the top 2 intestinal transplant programs by volume in the country.

    About National Kidney Foundation Living Organ Donation Resources
    THE BIG ASK: THE BIG GIVE platform, which provides nationwide outreach, is designed to increase kidney transplantation through training and tools that help patients and families find a living donor. It includes direct patient and caregiver support through our toll-free help line 855-NKF-CARES, peer mentoring from a fellow kidney patient or a living donor, online communities, an advocacy campaign to remove barriers to donation, and a multi-media public awareness campaign. All resources are free and designed to teach kidney patients, or their advocates, how to make a “big ask” to their friends, loved ones, or community to consider making a “big give,” a living organ donation. www.kidney.org/livingdonation.

    About the National Kidney Foundation
    The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive, and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the U.S. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org.

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  • May 13, 2021

    Living Donors Save Lives and Give Others a Second Chance at Life

    Washington D.C., — While COVID-19 continues to dominant the United States healthcare system, nearly 100,000 Americans are still on a waitlist for a kidney transplant and each day 12 patients die waiting for a kidney. National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Health Policy Director Miriam Godwin knows these statistics all too well and made the altruistic decision to take action and help others by becoming a living donor during National Donate Life Month in April. Like all incredibly selfless living donors, Godwin made a conscious choice to help others, but please don’t call her a hero.

    “It’s difficult to live with the knowledge that some of the most vulnerable people in our society such as the elderly, communities of color, and those with limited financial means are waiting for kidney transplants, especially when kidney patients have been at such exceptionally high risk from COVID-19,” said Miriam Godwin, NKF Health Policy Director and a kidney transplant living donor. “It’s my job to make kidney transplants more accessible, but the tools to create system-level change are limited and take time. No one should be denied the opportunity for kidney health because of the circumstances of their birth. I became a living donor because I knew I could help one person right now, so I did. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.”

    Health inequities in the U.S. are well-documented for Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander people, who are all at increased risk for developing kidney disease. Black or African American people comprise 13% of the U.S. population yet represent 35% of those on dialysis for kidney failure. Hispanic or Latino people are 1.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic or non-Latino people to have kidney failure. Additional risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and family history.

    “We consistently say the ability to save a life through living organ donation is within all of us, yet we’re uncertain if people hear our message. To have Miriam – someone who has supported the transplant community throughout her career with her work at NKF – choose to make this life saving gift is truly inspiring,” said Matthew Cooper, MD, Director, Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute and a member of NKF Board of Directors. “As the region’s leading transplant program, we are honored that Miriam purposely chose MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute on her journey to provide this gift of life.

    Approximately 785,000 Americans have irreversible kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. About 555,000 of these patients receive dialysis to replace kidney function, 230,000 live with a transplant. Depending on where a patient lives, the average wait time for a kidney transplant can be upwards of three to seven years. Living donations were responsible for a total of 5,726 transplants in 2020. Living organ donation not only saves lives, but it saves money too. Each year, Medicare spends approximately $89,000 per dialysis patient and less than half, $35,000, for a transplant.

    “Kidney disease is a public health crisis estimated to affect 37 million adults in the United States, yet 90% don’t even know they have it,” said Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation and a kidney transplant recipient. “Miriam doesn’t want to be considered special and just wants living donation to be more commonplace, but what she did is incredibly special. The demand for kidney transplantation is so great that we are asking all adults in the U. S. to be more like Miriam and consider becoming a living donor.”

    Miriam’s generous gift facilitated two transplants through a program called Paired Kidney Exchange. If a kidney patient and potential living donor don’t have compatible blood types, the donor may consider donating through this program and here’s how it works. If the recipient from one pair is compatible with the donor from the other pair, and vice versa– the transplant center may arrange for a "swap"–for two simultaneous transplants to take place. This allows two transplant candidates to receive organs and two donors to give organs although the original recipient/donor pairs were unable to do so with each other. This has been extended to allow chains of donors with multiple linked donor and recipient pairs, often facilitated by a good Samaritan donor, as Miriam did. These donations can take place within a single center or across the U.S., allowing these generous gifts to help many more patients in need.

    Please consider becoming a living donor. To learn more about living organ donation, and kidney disease, go to MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute or www.kidney.org/livingdonation.


    Kidney Disease Facts
    In the United States, 37 million adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease—and approximately 90 percent don’t know they have it.  1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are at risk for chronic kidney disease. Risk factors for kidney disease include: diabeteshigh blood pressureheart diseaseobesity, and family history. People of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease. Blacks or African Americans are almost 4 times more likely than White Americans to have kidney failure. Hispanics are 1.3 times more likely than non-Hispanics to have kidney failure.

    About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
    MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital licensed for 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C., Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options in a trusting and compassionate environment. MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer, and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership. The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute  is a top 10 highest volume transplant center in the nation for all organs (excluding thoracic); the regions’ only 5-tier liver transplant program for 1-year organ survival; is among the top 10 highest volume centers for kidney transplants and the second largest paired kidney exchange program (through the National Kidney Registry) in the country; is among the top 3 programs by volume for pancreas and pediatric liver transplants; and, is among the top 2 intestinal transplant programs by volume in the country.

    About National Kidney Foundation Living Organ Donation Resources
    THE BIG ASK: THE BIG GIVE platform, which provides nationwide outreach, is designed to increase kidney transplantation through training and tools that help patients and families find a living donor. It includes direct patient and caregiver support through our toll-free help line 855-NKF-CARES, peer mentoring from a fellow kidney patient or a living donor, online communities, an advocacy campaign to remove barriers to donation, and a multi-media public awareness campaign. All resources are free and designed to teach kidney patients, or their advocates, how to make a “big ask” to their friends, loved ones, or community to consider making a “big give,” a living organ donation. www.kidney.org/livingdonation.

    About the National Kidney Foundation
    The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive, and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the U.S. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org.

  • August 21, 2019

    “I felt like the clock was ticking against me.”

    Gary Simmons, of Glen Burnie, MD, was doing everything he could to maintain his healthy lifestyle while battling kidney failure caused by diabetes. He ate right, worked out three times a week, rode his bike over 30 miles every weekend, and just started a new job with the special education staff at Lindale Middle School in Linthicum, MD. Despite his best efforts, Simmons could tell that his condition was worsening late last year.

    “It was an immediate fear of death that set in with me,” he says. “Not knowing that I had options to sustain my life. I have two young kids, and while my quality of life was deteriorating, their quality of life was deteriorating. I wasn’t able to do a lot of things that I needed to.”

    Simmons sought help from transplant specialists at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, who immediately ordered dialysis treatment and listed him for a kidney transplant.

    A Desperate Plea Answered

    Danelle Chapman and Gary Simmons
    Danelle Chapman and Gary Simmons

    Simmons’ physicians explained that the only way to cut down his time on the waiting list was to find someone willing to give him one of his or her kidneys; a living donor.

    “They talked about self-advocacy,” Simmons says. “I sent my story out to just about everyone that was in my e-mail contacts.”

    That list included friends, family, and many of the people he had only recently contacted initially about his current position at Lindale Middle School. Simmons received a reply from his boss, Danelle Chapman, who hired him only a few months prior.

    “She responded the next day saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to look into this to see if I can donate to you.’”

    Simmons was shocked.

    “I didn’t think it made any sense. She just gave me a job,” he says. “She really didn’t know me besides from school. I said, ‘Nobody’s really that kind.’ But it turns out she is.”

    Choosing the Gift of Life

    Chapman chairs the school’s special education department and, until Simmons’ e-mail, did not know the severity of her colleague’s illness. She says the decision to become his living donor was not a difficult one.

    “First, I realized he was in his forties and raising two kids. I already knew about his work ethic and his community service. He’s just an all-around great guy,” Chapman says. “I felt like he had a lot to give, and it was important to extend the quality of his life so that he could be there for his kids and provide for them.”

    She kept her word, undergoing tests and examinations at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute (MGTI) to determine if she could donate to Gary.

    “It’s a phenomenal program,” Chapman says. “Everyone was very kind throughout in explaining the procedure. They were extremely supportive.”

    Plotting a New Course

    Unfortunately, the results of the tests showed that Chapman and Simmons were not a blood match, meaning that her kidney could not be donated directly. Fortunately, there are other options.“Paired kidney exchange (PKE) is just one of the tools we use to complete living donor transplants even if the donor and recipient are not biologically compatible,” says Jennifer Verbesey, MD, director of the Living Donor Transplant Program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “Through the exchange, we can connect our pairs with others in the same position across the country and ultimately find matches. The goal is to build donation chains so that two, three, four or more people can end up getting a new kidney instead of just one person.”

    After agreeing to take part in the paired kidney exchange, Chapman could finally deliver the big news.

    “I think the look on his face was very surprised,” Chapman recalls through laughter.

    “I didn’t know whether to scream, to cry, or to shout. I’ll be honest, I was in such shock that I was motionless,” says Simmons. “It was amazing. God gave me a job and put me in a place where people were really looking after me.”

    One Kidney Saving Two Lives

    Simmons after his successful surgery
    Simmons after his successful surgery

    Coordinators at MGTI were able to fit both patients into the paired kidney exchange network. A blood match recipient was found for Chapman’s kidney and, in return, Simmons would receive a compatible kidney back from another donor in the exchange.

    “It’s pretty amazing when I think about the impact because it definitely effects so many more people than just Gary,” Chapman says.

    “She started off with the intention of helping me but, at the end of the day, she ended up saving two lives,” said Simmons.

    Both successful surgeries took place during the same week in late July. Gary had his new kidney transplanted by Dr. Verbesey just two days before his birthday on July 25th. It’s a gift he will never forget.

    “Danelle gave me a job, she gave me a birthday gift, and she gave me a kidney!” he says.

    Overwhelming Support

    In an additional show of support and kindness, another teacher from Lindale Middle School, Terra Greene, is serving as Simmons’ caretaker throughout his recovery from transplant surgery. Gary plans on returning to work in October or November. Chapman says she’ll be ready for the start of the new school year in late-August, and she is excited to eventually tell students all about her summer vacation.

    MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute performs more living donor kidney transplants than any other healthcare institution in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. It is also recognized as a national leader in kidney exchange and the management of recipients and donors who are incompatible. Only a handful of transplant centers in the United States offer this option to their patients. For more information, visit: MedStarGeorgetown.org/LivingDonor

  • February 26, 2019

    WASHINGTON – The first cancer patient to be treated as part of a CAR-T cell clinical trial at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital through Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is still in “complete remission” six months after receiving the treatment.

    Diggs receiving her car-t cell therapy
    Daisy Diggs

    Daisy Diggs, 67, of Laurel, Maryland volunteered for the experimental treatment after a lengthy battle with stage-three non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Following her diagnosis in 2015, the mother of two and grandmother of four developed several tumors that could not be eliminated with chemotherapy alone.

    “I had tumors in my lymph nodes, hip, pelvis, neck and right kidney. They couldn’t get a handle on it,” Diggs says. “I’ve been getting chemo for two and a half years. Each time I would have some [tumor] shrinkage and then they would grow. I thought, ‘Well, the chemo isn’t working for me, let me try this.’ I’m glad I did. I see these T-cells as Pac-Men circulating in my body and eating up the cancer.”

    “We don’t know if others will have the same or similar response or for how long the treatment will be effective,” says Pashna N. Munshi, MD, associate clinical director of the Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Program, a joint program between MedStar Georgetown and the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack/Meridian Health.

    “Still, hers is exactly the early result we had hoped for. The fact that she is still in complete remission six months after her CAR-T infusion signals a promising chance for a long-term remission for Ms. Diggs.”

    “I feel great,” says Diggs. “I’m so relieved to receive this latest news. For me, the CAR-T cells were 100 times better than chemo in terms of how I felt during the treatment. I’m just so happy. I thank God and I thank Dr. Munshi.”

    Ms. Diggs receiving CAR-T cell infusion
    Ms. Diggs receiving CAR-T cell infusion on July 23rd, 2018

    Diggs joined the phase 2 CAR-T cell (axicabtagene ciloleucel or KTE-C19) clinical trial to test its safety and effectiveness, which had only become available two years after her diagnosis of follicular lymphoma. Starting in the summer of 2018, she began receiving the experimental therapy, which uses her own immune system to destroy the cancer.

    CAR-T cells are made in a medical lab using a component of the patient’s white blood cells. There, the patient’s natural, disease-fighting T-cells are genetically modified to express synthetic receptors that target proteins commonly found on the lymphoma cells.  About two weeks later, the patient receives lymhodepleting chemotherapy for three days and the CAR-T cells are then infused into the patient. Thereafter, the CAR-T cells are expected to attack the tumors. The goal is that the CAR on the T cells will bind to and kill cells that express CD19, a protein that is found on B-cell lymphomas.

    “Once the CAR-T cell engages the tumor, it gets activated and proliferates multifold thereby eradicating the lymphoma rapidly,” says Dr. Munshi.

    CAR-T cell therapy carries many risks. Patients can experience drops in blood pressure, high fevers, neurological problems and even death as the body reacts to major changes in the immune system.  For Diggs, the risks of the experimental treatment were outweighed by the potential benefit.

    “While we’re very pleased with the results of Ms. Diggs’ treatment through this clinical trial, it’s important to remember that this is only a single experience of the 80 participants who will be enrolled nationwide. We have enrolled an additional five patients in this study here at Georgetown.  

    “I had to meet all the criteria for this - go to the dentist, get all these tests done, biopsies,” Diggs recalls. “At first I was nervous because I didn’t know how it would turn out. They explained the risks and told me all the bad things that could happen. But I figured that nothing else was working and that whatever happens, happens but if it’s good, it’s going to be wonderful.”

    Diggs has reported few side effects limited to only muscle pain. After her first PET scan in October, doctors could no longer find any evidence of cancer. In only three months, her tumors had disappeared.

    Ms. Diggs hugging Dr. Munshi after learn that her cancer is in “complete remission” thanks to her car-t cell treatment.
    Ms. Diggs learns that her cancer is in “complete remission” on October 18th, 2018.

    Diggs has reported few side effects limited to fevers and muscle pain. After her first PET scan in October 2018, doctors could no longer find any evidence of cancer. In only three months, her tumors had disappeared. Her second PET scan in January 2019 also found no evidence of cancer.

    “We’re giving it the ol’ one-two punch,” Diggs says. “I always say we’re shutting that party down. Now it’s hopefully going to be shut down for good.”

    Axicabtagene ciloleucel, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as Yescarta for relapsed/refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, transformed follicular lymphomas and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphomas, but is not approved for low grade lymphomas (follicular lymphoma, marginal zone lymphoma) that this clinical trial tests.

    Very common side effects include cytokine release syndrome with symptoms including fever, nausea, headache, rash, rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, and trouble breathing. Most patients have a mild reaction, but sometimes, the reaction may be severe or life threatening. Anemia (lack of cells that carry oxygen) and neutropenia (a decrease in white blood cells) are also very common.

    This clinical trial is sponsored and designed by Kite Pharmaceutical, a Gilead Company. Dr. Munshi occasionally serves as a paid scientific consultant for Kite Pharmaceutical.

    For more information about this trial, please contact Julie Verna at 202-444-0960.

  • January 12, 2019

    Triton showing is surgery scarsWhen Jessica Fritz noticed an unusual yellowing tint to her then 6-year-old son Triton’s complexion one day in 2017, she was wary of the clinicians in her town in Wyoming who were dismissing her concerns. 

    “I demanded blood work to get to the bottom of it,” says Fritz. “I just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Testing showed that Triton’s jaundiced appearance was due to a cancerous liver tumor called Rhabdomyosarcoma.  The tumor was blocking one of the ducts that usually empties bile into the liver. The tumor was so extensive it involved the pancreas as well as the liver and bile ducts. The backup of bile was turning his skin yellow.

    Triton underwent a year of chemotherapy. While his tumor responded, it would never go away completely.

    “It came back on his liver in the exact same place,” says Fritz. “We were devastated.”

    Desperate Search for a Treatment

    Fritz and her husband Daniel Fritz began to search for someone who would treat Triton’s cancer. They were running out of options. Running out of time. 

    “All of the doctors were telling us that Triton’s case was too high risk,” says Fritz. “He needed surgery, but they didn’t have the expertise to handle such a surgery. We knew the risks of not doing anything were that our son would lose his life.”

    Triton in the Hospital

    That’s when one of her physicians recommended they travel to Washington, D.C., to the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute to see its executive director, Thomas Fishbein, MD. 

    “We saw Dr. Fishbein who told us, ‘of course there is something we can do for your son,’” says Fritz.

    “Triton had a lethal tumor for which there really is no cure,” says Fishbein.  “Standard approaches could treat a tumor confined to the liver or pancreas, but never one that invaded both organs. He needed a complete liver transplant along with a very complex procedure to remove the pancreas, all without violating the tumor. We believed that if we could give him a new liver, removing at the same time his old liver, bile duct and pancreas,  Triton would have a good chance of survival. This had never been done before for such a rare tumor, but it was his only option.”

    This second part of the procedure, called a Whipple is an operation where a surgeon removes the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct. The remaining organs are then reattached to allow food to digest normally. Fortunately, as Chief of Hepatobiliary Surgery and Transplantation, Dr. Fishbein was in a unique position of performing both operations commonly.

    Traveling to MedStar Georgetown, Waiting for a New Liver 

    On November 9, 2018 Jessica Fritz, her husband and her younger son left their two other children with grandparents, traveled several hundred miles and checked Triton into MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. 

    “Our strategy was to take care of Triton and manage his medical needs, while we listed him for a liver transplant,” says Fishbein.

    Triton spent many months between MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House of Washington, D.C., where his mother and father traded days watching Triton at the hospital. 

    Caring for the Whole Family

    The timing of Triton’s hospitalization meant that the family would be separated over hundreds of miles during the holiday season.

    play button

    “That’s where Georgetown’s amazing Child Life program kicked in,” recalls Fritz. “Triton and his younger brother attended a Grinch cupcake decorating party in early December, followed by a big party welcoming Santa right before Christmas and a Valentine’s Day craft and cupcake party. The staff treated us more like family than anything. Our younger son was included in all the fun events and that helped us feel like we were keeping the family somewhat together. Even if we were so far from home.”

    During Triton’s wait for a new liver he even landed a small role in the new commercial for MedStar Health where he is seen on camera meeting an “astronaut.”

    “Triton just thought that was hilarious, the coolest thing ever,” says Fritz.

    Triton meeting the astronaut

    The Call Comes

    Then on February 24, 2019, Triton’s parents got the call.  A liver was available.  And it was compatible with Triton’s blood type.

    The next morning, Dr. Fishbein performed the liver transplant and Whipple procedure simultaneously, removing the whole tumor and both organs intact. To add to the complexity, the liver Triton became available for was a small portion split from an adult liver, from which the other side was also transplanted into another adult patient.

    “He recovered insanely fast,” says Fritz. “He was awake two hours after surgery, he was walking around after just four days. Then we attended the St. Patrick’s Day Party, the Easter Party and a Super Heroes Party put on by the Hope for Henry Foundation.”

    Then in early April, Triton and his family returned home to Wyoming. Now, once a week, they make a five-hour trip each way to Salt Lake City, Utah for Triton’s maintenance chemo therapy.

    Triton with Dr. Kaufman and care team

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    Hope for Other Children

    “With Triton’s success, a second patient has already found our program, and is currently awaiting transplant,” says Fishbein. “As more people hear about this new treatment, I hope it will change the outlook for children across the country with this previously incurable childhood cancer.”

    Triton’s New Life

    “Triton is energetic and lively now.  He has a new lease on life because of people reaching out to him and to us.  We learned that you should never give up on your child.”

    Triton’s 43-thousand followers on his Facebook page, “Triton Tough,” have tracked his progress and his new adventures thanks to his mom who tries to post as many updates as she can. “We can’t believe how many wonderful people we’ve met and have been directly in touch with us. We’ve met so many people along the way.”

    Triton enjoying life after his transplant. Left to right: Triton eating a snow cone, Triton with his little brother at the beach, and Triton celebrating his 9th birthday

    Because Triton’s siblings missed a lot of school, all of them will repeat the past year at a new school in Wyoming this fall. Triton will get home schooling this year, then be off to school in the fall of 2020. 

    “He won’t be able to do all the activities he used to like wrestling and we’re a little nervous about sending him back to school but we’ll be ready.  The important thing is that Dr. Fishbein and all the people at Georgetown saved our son’s life when so many other doctors said, ‘no.’ Despite the ups and downs, you can’t help but smile.”

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  • November 19, 2018

    In Season of Giving, Family is Thankful for the Gift of Life

    (Washington, D.C.,) A Virginia father has received a kidney transplant thanks to his son’s organ donation five months earlier and a program that is reducing another barrier to living donation, time.

    In March 2018, 48 year-old Ivan Jones was surprised to be diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. He needed a transplant. 

    “I knew right away that I wanted to donate a kidney to my dad,” says Amir Jones, 20. 

    But father and son’s blood types were incompatible. If Amir wanted to donate to his dad, the next option was to participate in the paired kidney exchange program so Ivan could be matched with a compatible living donor.  The schedule of testing and the intricate logistics of a paired kidney exchange made the date of his father’s transplant unpredictable.  Adding to the time pressure, the younger Jones had already been admitted to a prestigious research program at Princeton University which started in June.  As a senior studying Global Affairs at George Mason University, this was an important chance for Amir to learn from experts in his field. And graduation was scheduled for December 2018.

    “In March he was already set to go to Princeton,” says Ivan Jones. “As his father, I didn’t want to hold him back and I didn’t want him to miss this important opportunity.  I know he worked hard to get accepted to the program.  But knowing my son, I knew he was going to figure something out so he could do both things.  It’s just who he is.”

    Fortunately for father and son, they were able to participate in the Advanced Donation Program through the National Kidney Registry which would allow Amir Jones to do both. Amir could donate a kidney on his father’s behalf by scheduling his surgery at his own convenience. His father could then receive a voucher for a living organ in the future.

    “Because living donation is the best option for recipients, transplant programs are trying to use this option in every possible way,” says Seyed Ghasemian, MD, transplant surgeon and director of Transplant Urology at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “This NKR program is making it possible for Amir to continue his education and continue with his plans, and for his father to receive a kidney from a living donor.  We expect nothing but long term success for both of them.”

    “As one of the largest paired kidney exchange  programs in the country, we’re very fortunate to have a dedicated living donor team to make these types of innovative donations and transplant opportunities happen for our patients,” says Matthew Cooper, MD, director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at the MGTI.”

    In late May 2018, Amir had surgery to donate his kidney to someone in the Washington, D.C., area.

    Ivan Jones spent the summer getting worked up for his transplant.  Then in October, a living donor match in San Diego was offered to Ivan through the NKR. On November 14, about five and a half months after Amir’s donation, Ivan Jones had his kidney transplant.

    Dr. Ghasemian performed both Amir’s kidney donation as well as his dad’s kidney transplant.

    “At first I was frustrated that I couldn’t be a direct donor to my dad,” says Amir.  “But after realizing that I could help not only him, but someone else, was a real moment of gratitude for me.  Two weeks after my surgery, I was packing up my car and driving off to New Jersey for my program,” says Amir. “I’m just so grateful for this opportunity that allowed me to continue with my plans and for my dad to receive a kidney from a living donor.”

    “It’s been overwhelming and amazing at the same time,” says Amir’s mother Pinky Jones.  “With Amir being 20, I realized he wasn’t asking me, he was telling me he was going to do this. And he was saving his dad’s life so there wasn’t much I could protest about that.”

    “It’s been amazing that at there’s a program like this,” says Ivan.  “I just had no idea.  This is such a blessing. Amir is really big into helping others around the world. And now he’s helped not only me, but someone else in need.”  

    As part of his curriculum at George Mason, Amir has traveled around the world to study other cultures. He is vice president of George Mason’s chapter of UNICEF and he works with a mentoring program that helps struggling high school students in Fairfax County.

    Amir will be followed closely by physicians at the MGTI for a mandatory period of two years. After that Dr. Ghasemian recommends he visit his primary care provider for regular checkups.

    “Very few transplant centers in the world have the resources or the experience with logistics and organization to be able to offer this to their potential donors and patients,” says Dr. Cooper.  “This shows MGTI’s high level of investment and belief in paired kidney exchange as one critical way to offer creative transplant options. We also have significant living donor benefits not offered at most centers to support and protect donors who give the gift of life.”

    After graduation in December 2018, Amir plans to apply to law school with this experience behind him.

    “I’m just so thankful for all that my dad, my family and I have been able to be part of this,” says Amir. 

    More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the United States.

  • October 11, 2018

    MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center (MSMHC) was among a select group of hospitals nationwide recognized for promoting enrollment in state organ donor registries in a national campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The campaign has added more than 443,000 donor enrollments to state registries nationwide.

    MSMHC conducted awareness and registry campaigns to educate staff, patients, visitors, and community members about the critical need for organ, eye, and tissue donors and, by doing so, increased the number of potential donors on the state’s donor registry. The hospital earned points for each activity implemented between October 2017 and April 2018 and was awarded Silver recognition through the HRSA Workplace Partnership for Life Hospital Campaign.

    Of the 1,283 hospitals and transplant centers participating in the campaign, 360 Silver Awards were awarded during this phase of the campaign.

    “Winning the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC) Silver Award for promotion of organ donation gives me such pride and also has personal meaning,” said Renee Sicheri, MSMHC RN and member of the MSMHC ICU team. “The collaboration between WRTC and our ICU team is evident with every donor patient, as well as the donor family, who are given compassionate care, love, respect and support by the entire team. My family has been touched personally by organ donation. My brother-in-law experienced a hemorrhagic stroke and was an organ donor. His gift of life impacted seven people’s lives. I remember how supportive the team was, and the comfort they brought my family. I am proud to be a part of this fabulous program and the great work carried out by the teams at MSMHC and the WRTC.”

    The Donate Life campaign is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Workplace Partnership for Life, mobilizing the nation’s hospitals to increase the number of people in the country who are registered organ, eye, and tissue donors and ultimately, the number of organs available for transplant.

    “MSMHC is proud to support organ donation,” said MSMHC President Christine Wray. “We humbly thank donors for giving the gift of life, and their families, for supporting their generous decision. We thank all physicians and associates who work in units where donations originate, for their professionalism and reverence for this delicate process. Finally, we thank WRTC for partnering with us in this important, life-saving mission.”

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    About MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center:

    MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, located in Clinton, Maryland, is a 176 bed acute care hospital serving the Washington, D.C., metro and Southern Maryland area. The hospital is focused on caring for patients and their loved ones utilizing advanced technology under the guidance of expert clinicians. Quality, Safety, Wellness, and Patient Satisfaction are achieved through a spirit of patient centered services that connect us to the community we serve.

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