March 16, 2012

Patients help design new kidney-pancreas transplant clinic

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Sherry Knox was immediately impressed when she walked into the new Kidney & Pancreas Transplant Clinic. The waiting area was comfortable and relaxing — a perfect size. The restrooms were easily accessible. The patient rooms in the back were outstanding, she says, in functionality, size and privacy.

(From left) Kidney & Pancreas Transplant Medical Director Robert Gaston, patient Sherry Knox and Co-Director of Renal Transplant Surgery Mark Deierhoi take a tour of the new Kidney & Pancreas Transplant Clinic.

As a seven-year kidney transplant patient and member of the Kidney Transplant Patient Advisory Council, Knox knows the things patients need to have complete care. And when Robert Gaston, M.D., medical director of Kidney & Pancreas Transplant, completed Knox’s tour around the clinic to where they finished — in front of the blood draw room — Knox’s face lit up.

“This,” Knox told Gaston, “is perfect.”

The clinic opened March 8 in the old maternity space on the first floor of the New Hillman Building. The new 11,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility is more than five times the size of its former space one floor above the new clinic. The new space, part of UAB’s AMC21 plan, will enable the clinic to provide the world-class care it’s known for in an area befitting its stature.

“This provides a facility that unites the pre- and post-operative patients with adequate space for our staff to do their work and teach our patients about their care,” Gaston says. “It also puts a bright face on transplantation at UAB and in the state of Alabama. We’re known nationally and internationally as a place that provides the best transplant care, and now we have the look, feel and space that our patients expect a hospital of our caliber to have.”

The Kidney & Pancreas Transplant staff designed the space with input along the way from the Patient Advisory Committee.

In the old clinic space, patients would have to walk almost two blocks to The Kirklin Clinic for any lab procedure. That could be a struggle for some patients, and the waits for lab work didn’t help make the visit efficient.

The Patient Advisory Committee consistently mentioned that the addition of a blood lab room in the new clinic was vital.

“One of the clear messages from our patients was that they wanted lab draws in the clinic,” says Martha Tankersley, administrative nursing director for the Transplant Program. “They wanted to get their labs right where they were being seen, and we’ve got that set up for them. The suggestions of our patients were a big, big help in designing this space and making it more friendly and efficient.”

Patient comfort and staff efficiency were paramount in the design and concept of the clinic, and for good reason.

More than 10,000 kidney and pancreas transplant patients visit the facility each year, and the patient population continues to expand. The Kidney & Pancreas Transplant Clinic performs 250 to 300 transplants per year, which makes UAB one of the top three largest programs in the country. That doesn’t include the 120 liver, 25 heart and 25 lung transplants also performed at UAB Hospital.

“We’re in the top five for total organ transplants with more than 400 per year,” says Deb McGrew, associate vice president of UAB Hospital. “We perform more than 100 more transplants per year than any other program in the south.”

“We’ve also consistently had some of the best results year in and year out,” says Devin Eckhoff, M.D., director of the Division of Transplant Surgery. “And we do deliver very personalized care to the patients. I think they know that. They know they have a good team caring for them. This will only enhance that personalized care. They’ll have the same nurses and phlebotomists. It will help promote the real team care they receive.”

Indeed, independent groups that have conducted surveys with transplant patients report that UAB is consistently the highest-rated in terms of care by its patients.

Physicians and staff say the new facility should enhance the group’s profile even more.

One of the features that has the staff and patients excited is the new on-site conference room. It will facilitate transplant team meetings and case presentations to medical students, residents and other trainees. It also will double as a patient-education hub where staff can educate donors and potential donors, and transplant recipients on their care.

The new clinic has 18 exam rooms, two procedure rooms and two designated consultation areas among its space — that’s in comparison to the eight exam rooms and no consultation areas in the previous space.

Physicians are following approximately 4,000 patients with functional kidney transplants to date. With more than 300 being added to that number each year, says Mark Deierhoi, M.D., professor of surgery and co-director of renal transplant surgery, the new clinic is vital to running a comprehensive transplant enterprise.

“Transplantation is a long-term activity,” says Deierhoi, who has been a part of the program since 1986 and for some 7,000 kidney transplants. “It’s chronic, and we need to be able to manage long-term therapy, and that requires a complex interaction of the pre-transplant evaluation process and following them after transplant. We’ve always had some difficulties with that because everything was spread out. Having everything in one place and having enough space so we can address multiple parts of the program simultaneously is a big step forward for us.”

The clinic staff also encourages others to consider the gift of organ donation. Living donors also are in need. More than 28,000 lives are saved each year in the United States because of organ donation, giving hope to the more than 108,000 people awaiting a life-saving organ transplant. 100 million Americans have checked “yes” for donation when applying for or renewing their driver’s license or identification card. Sign up as an organ, eye and tissue donor by visiting

Naming opportunities are available in the new facility. Those interested are encouraged to contact Virginia Loftin in the development office at 975-5602.