LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On Wednesday, the UofL Health-Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center announced it has completed 101 transplants to-date this year.

In 2019, the center successfully completed 95 transplants. Kim Rallis, the transplantation program’s executive director, said to date transplant volume is up about 50 percent compared to last year, and six transplants were completed within 24 hours last week. The reason is the coronavirus.

“Places like Duke [Transplant Center] basically shut down their entire transplant program. They didn’t know what was going on, and so they didn’t want to hurt or harm anyone, and so organs that they probably would have taken at that time ended up coming to us because we had an idea and an infrastructure to say how we were going to take care of our patients,” explained Dr. Christopher Jones, the transplantation program’s director.

Rallis said the center’s size allowed it to make moment-by-moment decisions. It’s a mid-size center that performs 100 to 200 transplants per year. In comparison, she said the large transplant centers in the U.S. perform over 500 transplants annually. 

“We were taking advantage of things like telemedicine to still get the information we need to get patients on the list, but there was this unique phenomenon where centers within that 250-mile radius that we now share organs with may have ramped down just a little bit, and we were able to benefit from some of their decisions to allow for the supply of organs to come to us,” Rallis said.

Rallis said their patients have advanced organ disease so transplants are necessary to live.

“So, yes, we are very sensitive to the emotions around the fear of COVID, but we’re also a last resort for a lot of people that need our care, and so it’s a balance,” Rallis said.

Dr. Jones said a big issue during the pandemic for transplants is patients on a waiting list who contract COVID-19. The Trager Transplant Center’s regulatory oversight doesn’t recommend a transplant for positive COVID-19 cases because the patients are immunocompromised. However, Dr. Jones said he thinks COVID-19 is here to stay for the long-run so he said the center will look closer at what France and Spain are doing. Those two countries have less regulations so they have performed transplants on COVID-19 patients with mixed results, but they have completed successful transplants. 

Dr. Jones performed five of the six transplants done last week within 24 hours. He did two livers and three kidneys. 

“We’re going to work everyday to make sure that we can get the list down to zero. That’s my goal. It’s always been my goal. I’ve always known I wanted to do transplant surgery since I was eight-years-old, and it’s very important to kind of stay focused on, you know, what it is that we are doing,” Dr. Jones said.