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VA Portland Health Care System

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Portland Transplant Office

Transplant Surgery 


In 1980, VA Central Office determined that liver transplantation was appropriate therapy for end-stage liver disease and offered funding for liver transplants for veterans. Several years later, they began exploring the feasibility of replacing fee-basis payment for procedures with in-house transplant programs to assure veteran access to care and to establish centers of excellence. Concurrently, the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) had been developing a liver transplant program to meet the needs of the people of the Pacific Northwest. An innovative sharing agreement was established, taking advantage of new, state-of-the-art facilities at the Portland VA Medical Center (PVAMC) and combining the clinical expertise of staff on both sides. In 1987, Portland PVAMC became the first centrally funded in-house liver transplant program in the nation.

The first liver transplant was successfully performed at PVAMC on an OHSU patient on October 19, 1988. In April of 1989, a 25-year-old veteran from El Paso, Texas completed evaluation and underwent successful transplantation. Since then, nearly 800 veterans from 37 states and 69 different VA centers have been evaluated and over 252 have been transplanted. One-year patient survival for the combined PVAMC/OHSU program is currently at 89%, which exceeds the national average. The Surgical Director for the liver transplant program is Dr. John M. Ham.

In April of 2001, pleased with the success and expertise of the liver transplant program, Veteran Affairs Central Office (VACO) announced the addition of a new in-house renal transplant program at the Portland VA Medical Center. The major strength of this program is the experience of the clinical team. Renal transplants are performed at the VA with surgical assistance from the staff of OHSU, where surgeons have transplanted nearly 3300 kidneys. Their first kidney transplant, the 18th in the world, was performed on identical twins in 1959 and the recipient is one of the longest-surviving transplant recipients in the world. Patient and graft survival statistics exceed expected national rates and at one year are at 98% and 96% respectively. OHSU has also been an active contributor to research and new transplant technologies.

The medical directors for the program is Dr. Douglas Norman and Dr. John M. Barry heads the surgical team from OHSU. In its first two years as an active program for VISNs 18-22, PVAMC has evaluated a total of 83 patients. 26 patients have undergone a kidney transplant and 11 were able to obtain their kidneys from live donors.  This includes our first patient, another young veteran from El Paso, whose wife donated her kidney to him.