Lifesaving Care

John Drace with his wife, Roberta
" I couldn’t get over the fact that something so devastating and potentially life-ending was 100-percent curable with a transplant."
– John Drace, MD, liver transplant recipient; pictured with his wife, Roberta.

From California to Kansas

Every journey begins with a single step. In Dr. Drace’s case, his began with a misstep and minor fall from a curb.

During a follow-up medical evaluation, the California physician received devastating news: He had hepatocellular carcinoma, a malignant form of liver cancer caused by excess iron buildup in his body.

At age 57, the 6’1,” 225-pound diagnostic radiologist was the picture of health – strong, fit and not accustomed to being the patient. But, he quickly became one. His cancer was at an advanced stage and 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.

“I had a very powerful drive to find answers,” he said. “I couldn’t get over the fact that something so devastating and potentially life-ending was 100-percent curable with a transplant.”

His research of transplant programs quickly led him to The University of Kansas Health System’s Center for Transplantation. The health system’s statistics were impressive. Here, surgeons have performed over 1,500 liver transplants and more than 2,233 kidney and 160 kidney/pancreas transplants, with excellent patient survival outcomes and shorter-than-average wait times.

Exceptional Care

As the largest transplant program in Kansas and western Missouri, the health system’s Center for Transplantation incorporates the best in transplant care and leading-edge surgical options for kidney, liver, heart and pancreas transplants.

Our surgeons have a wealth of experience with complex, high-risk transplants, including those for patients whose previous transplants have failed. We also do multi-organ surgeries, such as liver/kidney and kidney/pancreas transplants. Additional procedures include minimally invasive non-transplant surgery for liver conditions and for kidney donation.

Schedule a transplant evaluation

The transplant cure

In late July 2012, Dr. Drace packed his bags and headed to Kansas City with his wife, Roberta. Just two months later, he received a life-changing phone call while visiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A large, healthy liver was available.

“Time is sort of suspended while you wait for something of this magnitude,” he noted. “That call speeded things along in a flash.”

Transplant surgeons Sean Kumer, MD, PhD, and Dr. Schmitt, performed the skilled transplant surgery.

Just 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 health system's main campus. His fast recovery speaks to the health system’s exceptional care and his good health.

“His fitness level and overall health played a big role in how fast and how well he recovered, and the fact that we were able to transplant before he became any sicker,” Dr. Kumer said. “If we can transplant organs before patients are at their sickest, they’re more likely to make a strong recovery.”

Care that lasts a lifetime

Strong recoveries are the reason the health system 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 health system. Because many transplant patients have complex health conditions, the team also consults with other doctors, such as cancer and infectious disease specialists.

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

“One of the great strengths of our program,” said Dr. Kumer, “is that we all work together to make  this process work for our patients.”