Over a two-day period packed with 10 surgeries at the University of Kansas Health System, five patients received a replacement kidney—thanks to a 10-person kidney donor transplant chain, the longest of its kind in the Kansas City area.
Kidney chains begin when a patient has a willing donor, but blood type or other complications prevent a match. The patient and donor are then listed in a national registry, while the hospital searches for other pairs in similar circumstances to see whether the first pair’s donor has a kidney that matches a different pair’s patient. If so, the two donors give their kidneys to the opposite patient.
Regional milestone for kidney chain
While four-person kidney chains are relatively common, said Dr. Diane Cibrik, professor and medical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program, “every time you add another person to the chain, it adds more planning. That’s why this region has never seen a 10-person chain before. Now that we have done a 10-patient chain, we feel we can work together to build larger chains, including some chains that go on for years.”
This chain began when a donor who didn’t match with a friend gave his kidney to the hospital for another recipient.
“While our transplant team has the confidence to do what it takes to benefit our patients, none of this would have been possible without the selfless actions of the organ donors,” said Dr. Sean Kumer, associate professor of surgery and vice president of operative services. “It takes that first anonymous donor willing to donate a kidney to someone they don’t know—and may never meet—to get the chain started.”
Amna Ilahe, who directs the hospital’s living donor program, stressed the safety of living donation, thanks to rigorous testing of potential donors. As for the results, “living donation is a simple act that will make a big difference,” she said. “It can change a recipient’s quality and quantity of life.”
The University of Kansas, in consultation with The University of Kansas Health System and The University of Kansas Physicians, announced that Robert D. Simari, M.D., the Franklin E. Murphy Professor in Cardiology, has been named executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“Dr. Simari has served as interim executive vice chancellor since July 1, and he has provided tremendous leadership and stability to the medical center during a time of transition,” said Douglas A. Girod, chancellor of the University of Kansas. “I am pleased KU Medical Center is in capable hands, and I look forward to working closely with Dr. Simari to advance the medical center’s mission.”
Simari will continue to serve as executive dean for the School of Medicine. A national search for his replacement will begin in the coming weeks.
“As an alumnus and executive dean of the KU School of Medicine, it is a great honor and a humbling experience to be named executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center,” said Dr. Simari. “This is an exciting time in the 114-year history of the medical center, and I look forward to collaborating with our partners and other university leaders to continue to train the best health professionals for Kansas, improve the health of our region and discover the cures and treatments of tomorrow.”
A 1986 graduate of the KU School of Medicine, Simari has served as executive dean of the medical school since March 2014. He currently serves as the chief academic and administrative officer for the School of Medicine and provides oversight and leadership to all three medical school campuses: Kansas City, Wichita and Salina.
Simari has been instrumental in guiding the School of Medicine’s new curriculum development and the construction of the Health Education Building, both of which debuted this past summer. Simari is a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation. He is the vice president of the Association of University Cardiologists and will serve as president in 2018.
Prior to joining the KU Medical Center, Simari served as vice chair for the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases and co-principal investigator of the Center for Translational Science Activities at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he also served as a physician scientist, cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.
While at the Mayo Clinic, Simari’s research laboratory made fundamental discoveries in the areas of thrombosis and identification of vascular stem cells, and for 10 years he has led the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute-funded Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network, which performs early phase clinical trials in cardiovascular cell therapy. In addition, he continues his cardiology practice at The University of Kansas Health System.
Simari earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame. Following medical school, he completed his residency at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, then served fellowships in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology at the Mayo Clinic. Following his clinical training, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan.
“Out of the 16 or 17 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen so many people in the waiting room waiting to hear a word about how the patient was doing,” said Dr. Emmanuel Daon, thoracic and cardiac surgeon with the University of Kansas Health System. “Not even close.”
Dr. Daon was talking about the friends and supporters of Dr. Scott Ward, d’91, g’94, g’96, better known as “Scooter” to those he counts as friends, and if you’ve ever met him, you’re a friend.
“What it tells me is that this is somebody who’s special.”
In October, Ward suffered an aortic dissection requiring emergency heart surgery. The procedure was needed to repair a partial rupture in Ward’s aorta, the largest blood vessel in the human body. Ward, who was already paralyzed from neck down since breaking his neck in 1986, faced long odds, including a survival rate under 10%. But he had something else working in his favor: an army of supporters, led by his superhero wife, Robin, g’03.
“They can tell you what the odds are,” she said. “They can tell you how bad this is. They don’t know Scooter.”
Family, friends and former student-athletes descended on KU Med from all over the country and took over the waiting room. There they held vigil for Scooter, sharing updates via text, Twitter and Facebook, and soon after a movement was born. With KU volleyball still in season, and men’s basketball getting underway, the rallying cry #rootforscoot took over social media.
“That initial support was so amazing that I don’t think there was any other choice than to survive,” Ward remembers.
Incredibly, Ward survived the initial surgery and was on his way to recovery when he suffered another aortic tear and a more perilous prognosis. A second surgery would be needed, and the success rate, according to Dr. Daon, was more like one-in-a-million. Scooter remembered taking a deep breath before adding his trademark lighthearted humor and hopeful optimism.
“Quoting a bad movie, I said ‘so we have a chance,'” he recalled in a recent interview, just months after surviving a second, life-saving heart surgery.
A heartfelt tribute
February is heart health awareness month, and our friends at Charlie Hustle are helping raise awareness and funds to support the American Heart Association in Kansas City. Charlie Hustle’s chief marketing officer, Katie Martincich, b’10, d’10, g’13, also played volleyball for KU and worked alongside Scooter as an academic and career counselor for Kansas Athletics, so she helped the Kansas City company connect with the Wards to share their story.
Scooter’s journey, told in this video below and posted on the Charlie Hustle Facebook page, is a touching tribute to a Jayhawk so beloved, you can’t help but root for him.
The largest higher education fundraising effort to date in the state, Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, raised $1.66 billion, far exceeding its $1.2 billion goal, according to KU Endowment. The campaign, which ended June 30, boosted student support, faculty, facilities and programs at the University of Kansas and The University of Kansas Hospital.
Among the campaign’s notable accomplishments were 735 new scholarships and fellowships, 53 new professorships and 16 new buildings or major renovations. Others included achieving National Cancer Institute designation and strengthening a wide range of pioneering academic and research programs.
Fundraising for the campaign began in July 2008, in the middle of the Great Recession, and it had a public kickoff in April 2012. More than 131,000 donors—49 percent of them new donors—from all 50 states and 59 countries made gifts.
“The success of Far Above is a testament to the confidence our alumni and friends have in KU,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “Every gift sent a message that our donors want to elevate KU to greater heights. Their generosity touched virtually every aspect of the university by funding new facilities, supporting future leaders and enabling our faculty to push the bounds of discovery.”
Whether it was in the midst of Budig 320 or over a crunchy chicken cheddar wrap at the Market, hanging out on Wescoe Beach or at a network watch party years later, countless Jayhawks owe their marriage to their time on the Hill. We’re sharing some of our favorite stories this week in anticipation of Valentine’s Day on Saturday, Feb. 14.
Kelly (Underwood) Blackburn, c’10, and Logan Blackburn, h’08, g’10
Kelly and Logan’s love story prominently features their beloved KU—they even tied the knot on campus. Kelly shared their story with us.
“My husband and I met in November 2009. I was a senior at KU on the Lawrence campus and he was in his last year of his Master’s program at KU Medical Center. Our first date included our favorite places in Lawrence, which meant we ended up walking down Jayhawk Boulevard and by the Campanile.”
“We both graduated in May 2010 and walked down the Hill together. After graduation we moved to Wichita and, over the next four and a half years, we bought a house, adopted a puppy and made our home. We were married on 12/13/14 on campus! Our ceremony was at Danforth Chapel and our reception was in the Kansas Ballroom at the Union. As always, the Hill provided the perfect backdrop to our love story.”
Notable members of the KU community have ceremoniously been drenched with buckets of ice water in an attempt to help raise awareness and money for the ALS Association, a national non-profit organization dedicated to fighting Lou Gehrig’s disease—most recently, the KU men’s basketball team accepted Coach Self’s challenge.
As of yesterday, the ALS Association reports that donations have topped $88 million dollars, with the donations coming from existing donors and more than 1.9 million new donors to the organization.
Did you know that ALS research is taking place at KU? According to Andy Hyland, translational medicine communications coordinator at the University of Kansas Medical Center, an ongoing study at the medical center is enrolling patients at ten different sites across the country. The study examines the use of the drug rasagiline, which is already approved for use in Parkinson’s disease, in patients with ALS.
Richard J. Barohn, M.D., distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Neurology, has treated patients with ALS for decades and serves as the principal investigator on the study, which is partially funded by the ALS Association. Dr. Barohn’s research focuses on neuromuscular diseases, and he was featured in a Kansas City Business Journal article last week.
Rattlesnakes. Burning sun. No shade. High winds. Blistered feet.
Those are just a few of the trials and tribulations that Sandra Billinger, g’04, PhD’09, has endured in her Walk Across Kansas, which began earlier this month on the Colorado state line near Coolidge.
An assistant professor in the School of Health Professions’ department of physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences and director of KU Medical Center’s REACH (Research in Exercise and Cardiovascular Health) laboratory, Billinger is undertaking the 572-mile walk with her son, Michael Thomas, to raise $50,000 for laboratory equipment. As reported in the May issue of Kansas Alumni, the equipment will enable Billinger and her research team to study the benefits of exercise during stroke recovery.
Billinger says her studies have shown that stroke patients are sedentary during more than 90 percent of their day in rehab. She believes a more active therapy–similar to the approach that gets heart patients up and moving as part of their treatment–may be a better strategy for stroke recovery.
Updates posted on the Walk Across Kansas Facebook page and website show plenty of high points to balance the challenges the pair have encountered on their trek, which traces the American Discovery Trail. Michael celebrated his 20th birthday with family along the route, a good Samaritan returned Billinger’s lost hat, and talks delivered to local groups–including a meeting of the Great Plains chapter of the KU Alumni Association in Garden City–have given Billinger a chance to discuss her research and the important role that KU plays in serving the health care needs of the state. She has also reconnected with former patients and made new friends along the way.
“The hospitality here has been fabulous,” Billinger wrote in one update. “People are very nice!”
Billinger and Thomas are nearing Larned as the Memorial Day weekend approaches. They invite Kansans to join any portion of their walk, which will conclude in early June at the KU Medical Center. Just bring comfortable shoes, plenty of water and a keen eye for snakes.
We like to share things that aren’t always on the radar of alumni, students and fans– like this. Did you know that the KU medical center’s campus in Kansas City is home to the Landon Center on Aging? Named for former U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum’s parents, the center includes a geriatric medicine clinic, research facilities for aging-related issues and outpatient clinics for the Department of Neurology.
The Landon Center is also home to Forever Young, a senior choir formed in 2010 and inspired by the 2007 documentary film Young@Heart. Like the choir in the film, and unlike most traditional senior choirs, Forever Young sings contemporary and classic rock songs that may not be familiar to its members–audiences are often surprised to hear grandma or grandpa singing a song by Queen rather than a classic tune like You Are My Sunshine.
The choir consists of vocalists 55-80 years old, some who have age-related impairments, and is coordinated by Landon Center social worker Myra Hyatt. Melita Belgrave, Ph.D., assistant professor of music therapy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, is the director and conductor.
Forever Young performs two concerts each year, and they’re gearing up for the spring concert, “Wave Your Flag: A Night of International Rock Music,” which takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8 in Battenfeld Auditorium at the medical center. The performance is free, but donations for equipment and other costs are gladly accepted.
Check out the video below for more information about Forever Young: