by Nancy Humphrey
Members of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Canby Robinson Society recently joined CEO and President Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, and his wife, Melinda, at the Vanderbilt University Student Life Ballroom for the Spring Donor Celebration, an annual event honoring donors for their loyal support.
It was the first in-person celebration since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those in attendance included members of VUMC’s Board of Directors and VUMC advisory boards as well as members of the Canby Robinson Society and the Canby Robinson Legacy Circle.
This year’s Spring Donor Celebration focused on the Section of Surgical Sciences and the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, now the fifth largest transplant center by volume and the world’s largest heart transplant center.
“This is always one of my favorite annual events because it gives us a moment to collectively reflect on all that we’ve accomplished together and where we can go from here,” Balser said. “Many of VUMC’s accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible without the support of everyone in this room, so thank you to each and every one of you. Tonight, I’m going to focus on just one of the many areas that was excelling prior to the pandemic, but in the last two years has gone into hyperdrive — our transplant program.”
In 2021, VUMC set a record for total solid organ transplants, performing 645 lifesaving procedures among its adult and pediatric organ transplant programs. The 2021 total surpassed the previous record of 611 transplants in 2020 and set records for two organ programs — 315 kidney transplants and 54 lung transplants.
VUMC also leads the world in using hepatitis C-infected heart donors largely due to the collaboration among hepatologists, cardiologists and surgeons.
Balser introduced Seth Karp, MD, H. William Scott Jr. Professor of Surgery and Anesthesiology, chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences, Surgeon-in-Chief at VUMC and director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, who spoke about the Transplant Center’s remarkable trajectory of advancing clinical care and achieving outstanding surgical outcomes for solid organ transplant recipients that exceed national benchmarks.
Karp talked about two themes — innovation and collaboration. “By a combination of innovation and collaboration we can save the lives of desperately ill patients, and we do it in a way that’s unique and special to Vanderbilt,” he said.
Success stories of several patients who have received transplants reinforced the impact of donor support. “Without the partnership of you in this room to drive that innovation and collaboration, these stories, unfortunately, would likely have different endings,” Karp said. “As a surgeon who takes care of many of these patients, I’m really grateful for your support.”
The presentation included a short history of the transplant center which was formed in the late 1990s through the vision of C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD, now VUMC’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Health System Officer, and William Frist, MD.
Karp credited Pinson with bringing collaborative, interdisciplinary groups together. “He really set the stage for the entire United States as to how transplantation should be done. If you look across the country now, every single program in the country uses that interdisciplinary model that was pioneered by Dr. Pinson. Dr. Pinson and Dr. Frist had an extraordinary impact on what we do every day.”
The groundwork was laid even earlier. Many of the innovations in heart transplantation can be traced back to the pioneering work of VUMC’s Alfred Blalock, MD, and Vivien Thomas who began experimental work in vascular and cardiac surgery in the 1940s and set the stage for operating on the human heart.
Karp also mentioned the Light endowment that funded the surgical research laboratories and the ability to attract world-class surgeons like Matthew Bacchetta, MD, MBA, associate professor of Thoracic Surgery, who has pioneered “ways to fix organs that aren’t perfect by rehabilitating and using them. This technology saves lives. Every time we use an organ there’s a patient on the list who doesn’t die. This cutting-edge technology leads to treatments of the future, and we’re doing it today,” Karp said.
Also speaking at the event were Ashish Shah, MD, FACS, professor and chair of Cardiac Surgery and holder of the Alfred Blalock Endowed Directorship in Cardiac Surgery, and Kelly Schlendorf, MD, MHS, medical director of VUMC’s Adult Heart Transplant Program.
A special musical appearance by singer/songwriter Dylan Altman ended the evening. Altman has three No. 1 songs — Tim McGraw’s “Watch the Wind Blow By,” Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” and Jason Aldean’s “Take a Little Ride.”