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home : news : state news free November 11, 2019

9/19/2019 10:35:00 AM
Memorial Medical Center completes 1,000th kidney transplant

SPRINGFIELD — Carol Cummins brings her fellow residents, many of whom are in wheelchairs, to chapel services at Concordia Village every fourth Tuesday. You could never tell that the 79-year-old woman had a kidney transplant four decades ago.

No longer tied to a dialysis machine five times a week, 52-year-old Patrick Guinn of Concord, northwest of Jacksonville, is once again meticulously caring for his yard and doing the everyday things the rest of us take for granted, like exercising, walking and spending more time with family.

Diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease when she was a teenager, Bonny Sexton, now 49 years old, wasn’t going to let the common genetic disease slow her down. The morning she and her husband were set to travel to St. Louis for a Billy Joel concert, the Springfield woman received the phone call that her new kidney was available. The Piano Man would have to wait.

These three individuals represent the hundreds upon hundreds of lives that have been transformed since the Alan G. Birtch, MD, Center for Transplant Services at Memorial Medical Center launched in 1972.

And now the center has achieved a milestone, completing 1,000 transplants. The momentous transplant was completed at Memorial Medical Center on Tuesday, Sept. 10, by Dr. Marc Garfinkel, surgical director of Memorial’s transplant program and associate professor of the department of surgery at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Cheryl Blackburn, 61, of Rantoul was the recipient of the 1,000th procedure, receiving a kidney from her youngest child, 27-year-old Joshua Blackburn, also of Rantoul. Both patients are doing well a week following their surgeries.
Dr. Alan Birtch, who was recruited by SIU School of Medicine to join its faculty and serve as the first director of the kidney transplant program at Memorial Medical Center, performed 345 transplant procedures, the first one occurring in July 1973.

His widow, Elaine Birtch, said she felt “great joy” about the program completing its 1,000th transplant “because it’s been in wonderful hands by people who cared about transplant and worked hard. ... He would be very pleased that it is still going on and under such good leadership.”

Alan Birtch earned academic degrees from Johns Hopkins Medical School and received surgical training at the world-renowned Harvard University’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women’s Hospital) in Boston, where Dr. Joe Murray performed the first successful kidney transplant in 1954. Birtch trained under Murray.

Birtch served as an attending surgeon at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital for several years and was its director of kidney transplantation from 1971 to 1972 before he came to SIU School of Medicine.

“While we lost Dr. Birtch in December of 2011, he’d be very proud of the legacy that he created and how the program continues to prosper under the same high-quality standards that he built over 40 years ago,” Ed Curtis, president and CEO of Memorial Health System, said. “Dr. Birtch’s vision and fortitude have provided life for those afflicted with kidney failure and given hope to those who await transplantation.”

Dr. Bradford West, medical director of Memorial’s transplant program and a nephrologist with Springfield Clinic, has been involved in the program for 10 years.

“The 1,000th transplant reflects the growth we have seen both in numbers and the quality of the program,” West said. “We have a seasoned team of nursing staff with decades of combined experience. Every year, we continue to challenge ourselves to perform at a higher level and look forward to the future of our transplant program.”

The transplant team follows and manages the care of approximately 300 post-transplant patients. The transplant program is a cooperative initiative involving Memorial Medical Center, SIU Medicine and Springfield Clinic.

“This is a representation of the tremendous combined work of all colleagues at SIU School of Medicine, Memorial Medical Center and Springfield Clinic. We are delighted to celebrate this milestone of our transplant program,” Garfinkel, the program’s surgical director, said. “It has been a privilege to carry on the legacy of Dr. Alan G. Birtch and all the other surgeons who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the patients we serve.”

One of those patients, Carol Cummins, who received her new kidney 40 years ago from her youngest brother, John Farley, said she continues to be in good health although she has experienced some complications from the medications she has to take. Her brother is also in good health.

Cummins attributed her health to following her physician’s directions explicitly as well as to the power of prayer and positive thinking. “That has a lot to do with it.”

West said a kidney transplant from a deceased donor will last about a decade, while a kidney transplant from a living donor can last as long as 15 years on average. “Carol is one of our longest-lasting transplants from the program’s inception,” he said. “A transplanted kidney lasting that long is truly something special.”

“I was never apprehensive about the transplant,” Cummins recalled. “I knew it was going to work. I felt great from the start. It really is like being given a new life.”

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