Norfolk, VA – June 8, 2004 – Sentara Norfolk General Hospital today won unanimous approval from the Eastern Virginia Health Systems Agency Board of Directors to perform pancreas ransplants. The procedure would be available for Type 1 diabetics with end-stage renal disease, or kidney failure.
While a kidney transplant cures end-stage renal disease, it does not cure the underlying diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, pancreas transplantation is an accepted treatment for Type 1 diabetes. It is intended to cure the underlying disease process and halt the progress of the many secondary complications.
But pancreas recipients in Hampton Roads now must travel to Richmond, Charlottesville or out of state to have the procedure.
Patients suffer when forced to travel
“My whole medical history, 30 years, has been with Sentara Norfolk General Hospital,” says Julia Nettles, a diabetic patient who received a simultaneous kidney/pancreas transplant at Medical College of Virginia Hospital in 1998. “I feel torn between two sets of caregivers.”
She and her husband run a farm in Chesapeake, and weeks spent in Richmond during her procedure, plus three-hour round trips, added stress to the process.
“We would have been much happier if I could have stayed in this area for my transplants,” Nettles concluded.
Sentara kidney transplant program growing rapidly
“Adding pancreas transplants is a natural evolution for our kidney transplant program,” says John Colonna, M.D., Surgical Director of the Renal Transplant Center at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, and a surgeon who has performed numerous pancreas transplants. “Up to 15% of our patients on the waiting list for donated kidneys have Type 1 diabetes. They are textbook candidates for pancreas transplants, but right now they can’t have one here.”
Approximately 70 patients received kidney transplants at the Sentara Transplant Center during 2003, marking 46% growth in the program in one year. Projections are for 350 patients to be on the waiting list by the end of 2004.
Local program would reduce stress, expense of travel
“Having a pancreas transplant program at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital would make it much easier on these patients,” says Dr. Colonna. “It’s disruptive and stressful to leave physicians, nurses and surroundings you know to have a pancreas transplant elsewhere, not to mention expensive.”
“The costs involved were astronomical,” says Lester Cherry, a Portsmouth resident who received a kidney transplant in Arizona in 1987 and a pancreas transplant in Iowa in 1988. “Not everyone has the financial resources to travel outside our area for transplant.”
Now, Cherry needs another pancreas transplant, and he wants it done in Norfolk.
“Transplant centers require extensive testing … as well as several weeks of monitoring post-transplant,” Cherry adds. “Having to travel to Richmond or Charlottesville adds many unnecessary problems and emotional difficulties.”
EVHSA Board grants preliminary approval
The Eastern Virginia Health System Agency Board unanimously agreed with a staff recommendation to approve Sentara’s application for a Certificate of Public Need (COPN).
According to the staff report, there is a need for the pancreas transplant program in the area, and Sentara Norfolk General is a logical location. It is the only hospital in the region performing kidney transplants, and providing pancreas transplants would increase availability and accessibility and potentially reduce costs. In addition, there are no capital expenditures involved. Existing operating rooms, equipment and staff at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital can make the program operational as soon as it receives final approval from the Virginia Health Commissioner later this year.