Clinic puts organ transplant within reach of Eastern Shore residents

Shirley Banks, left, transplant coordinator, chats with transplant candidate Ronnie Wilcox outside the Multispecialty Clinic at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton.

EASTON — The UM Shore Regional Health Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Clinic puts organ transplantation within easier reach of Eastern Shore residents.

An affiliate program to University of Maryland Medical System’s Transplant Program in Baltimore, the UM SRH clinic, located in the Multispecialty Clinic at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton, provides evaluation and pre-operative testing for patients living on the Delmarva Peninsula who are referred for kidney and/or pancreas transplant.

Cambridge resident Ronnie Wilcox is a 49-year-old kidney transplant candidate who appreciates not having to drive over the Bay Bridge for access to care. Wilcox is originally from Baltimore, but says he is glad to be able to receive his pre-transplant care in Easton.

“I like being close to home,” he said with a grin during a recent visit to the Multispecialty Clinic. “I like it better on the Shore.”

According to Transplant Coordinator Shirley Banks, once referred by their primary care provider, patients undergo an extensive evaluation. They attend a transplant clinic at the hospital where they learn that successful transplantation offers many advantages, including freedom from dialysis, a less restrictive diet and better overall health. The Kidney and Transplant Clinic team, which also includes nurses Hope Padilla and Wendy Greenwood, also serving as transplant coordinators, and Brandi Young, medical assistant, assesses each patient on several measures — medical, surgical, financial, nutritional, social and psychological. The process includes multiple laboratory tests, an EKG, education that will support a successful transplant and signing consent forms.

Not all candidates for transplant can be approved, but some disqualifying factors, such a high body-mass index (BMI), can be resolved.

“We’ve had patients who were told they are too overweight, but they lose it and improve their health, and they come back and they qualify,” Banks said.

After evaluation, the patient’s case is presented via Zoom to the Baltimore-based UMMC Transplant Patient Selection Committee – a multi-specialty group that includes transplant surgeons, nephrologists, cardiologists, pharmacists and finance officers. An accepted candidate then undergoes a rigorous work-up to ensure that he or she is stable for transplant surgery and deemed likely to succeed post-transplant. Assuming all goes well, the patient is then presented to the same committee for approval to be added to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waitlist.

“We work closely with patients to get them ready for listing on UNOS,” Banks said. “It’s a long and sometimes winding path. Patient safety is key, so additional tests or specialist clearances may be indicated beyond the standard work-up. Also, it’s imperative that organ transplant candidates stay engaged in their own care by communicating well and completing required medical tests quickly, including chest X-rays, EKG, colonoscopy, mammogram and abdominal ultrasound.”

The linchpins for the success of UM Shore Regional Health’s Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Clinic success are the UMMC transplant surgeons who travel to Easton to evaluate patients in person — Dr. Silke Niederhaus, Dr. Jonathan Bromberg and Dr. Eugene Schweitzer.

“There are many benefits to having a local option for pre-transplant care,” said Dr. Niederhaus, who has undergone two kidney transplants herself. “Plus, the transplant surgery team becomes familiar with the pre-op team at Shore Medical Center at Easton, which improves our collaboration.”

Post-operative care is provided in Baltimore, which can mean multiple trips to Baltimore within the week after surgery.

“That can be a challenge that remains for the immediate post-transplant period,” Dr. Niederhaus said.

Most patients approved as candidates for transplant are on UNOS list for at least three years and in some cases, as many as nine. But along the way, a close, collaborative relationship builds between the transplant clinic staff and their patients.

“Because it is such an involved and lengthy process, we really get to know our patients as individuals, not just as ‘cases,’” Banks said. “It’s a great feeling to get someone through transplant to a better and healthier life.”

“I just like that they take their time with me,” Wilcox said. “I feel the love from the transplant clinic staff — they really look out for me and I feel confident in their care.”

For more information about the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Clinic at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton, call 410-822-1000, ext. 5782.

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