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Cross-country journey results in lifesaving transplant

John Drace, MDWhen John Drace, MD, strolled the Country Club Plaza and checked out the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in July 2012, he was far from a casual tourist in the heartland. Instead, he’d traveled halfway across the country for a lifesaving liver transplant at The University of Kansas Hospital’s Center for Transplantation.

For Dr. Drace, a diagnostic radiologist at a well-respected West Coast hospital, his first visit to Kansas began with a single misstep off a curb in California. The resulting fall was so minor he just shook it off.

Devastating diagnosis

Strong and fit at 57, he thought the follow-up exam was unnecessary. So he was blindsided by the devastating results: He had a malignant form of liver cancer. Already advanced, it was not curable through chemotherapy or surgery.

A liver transplant could save his life, but organ shortages in his part of the country meant an average wait time of 14 months. Dr. Drace’s medical experience told him he didn’t have that long.

Impressive transplant record

His research of transplant programs quickly led him to The University of Kansas Hospital Center for Transplantation. Surgeons have performed more than 1,000 liver transplants and more than 1,700 kidney and kidney/pancreas transplants, with excellent patient survival outcomes and shorter-than-average wait times.

Dr. Drace and his wife, Roberta, packed their bags and headed to Kansas City. They described themselves during this time as “impatient tourists,” taking in the area’s sights to stay busy while waiting for a liver to become available.

Destination hospital for transplants

With the largest transplant program in Kansas and western Missouri, the hospital incorporates the best in transplant care and leading-edge surgical options for kidney, liver and pancreas transplants. The program’s stellar reputation and short wait times are making the center a destination hospital for transplant patients across the country.

At any given time, about 16,000 people in the U.S. are on the waiting list for a liver. Of these patients, about 6,000 will receive a transplant each year, and 3,000 will die waiting.

The transplant cure

In Kansas City, Drace waited only two months before receiving the fateful call that a healthy liver was ready and waiting. Timothy Schmitt, MD, director of the Center for Transplantation, and Sean Kumer, MD, performed the transplant surgery.

Only five days later, Dr. Drace was discharged from the hospital and walked to his home away from home – a small house down the road from the hospital. His fast recovery speaks to the hospital’s exceptional care and his good health.

Care that lasts a lifetime

Strong recoveries are the reason the hospital transplant team focuses on keeping patients at their healthiest. Transplant patients receive individualized care from a team that includes kidney and liver doctors, transplant surgeons, anesthesiologists, interventional radiologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, pharmacists, dietitians, social workers, nurses and many other specialists in the hospital.

Our transplant coordinators are specially trained registered nurses who provide care in every phase of the transplant process, from evaluation to long-term follow-up care throughout patients’ lives.

If you or a loved one need an organ transplant, call 913.588.1227 to schedule an evaluation.