U.Va. Health System First in Virginias and Carolinas to Perform 1,000th Liver Transplant

August 23, 2010 — A University of Virginia Health System surgical team has performed the Medical Center's 1,000th liver transplant – a milestone achieved by only a handful of hospitals across the nation and no other hospital in all of the Virginias or the Carolinas.

"This is a major milestone that highlights more than two decades of teamwork of providing patients with end-stage liver disease the highest quality of care in the mid-Atlantic states," said Dr. Carl L. Berg, division chief of gastroenterology and hepatology and medical director of liver transplantation at the U.Va. Health System

The U.Va. Health System performed its first liver transplant in 1989, and over the last 21 years the program has become one of the nation's top liver transplant centers. In the past five years alone, the number of liver transplants U.Va. has performed annually has more than doubled, with nearly 90 transplants performed in 2009.

"Our program has grown to become one of the largest on the East Coast thanks to the efforts of many at our institution," Berg said. "But we are equally thankful for our recipient families, who assist in the successful recovery of our transplant recipients, as well as the many donor families who provide the gift of life to our patients."

Survival rates for U.Va. liver transplant patients continue to be favorable when compared to national statistics. Nearly 90 percent of U.Va. patients survive one year after their transplant and more than 80 percent reach the three-year survival mark.

"This important milestone is the result of the tireless dedication by everyone on our liver transplant team, including hepatologists, coordinators, nurses, social workers, our transplant psychiatrists, administrators, surgeons and others," said Dr. Timothy M Schmitt, interim surgical director of liver transplantation at the U.Va. Health System and the surgeon for the 1,000th liver transplant. "Our team brings together a diverse combination of expertise and an unwavering level of commitment, which has allowed us to grow and provide care to patients in need."

One former transplant patient is Paul Poluito, who went from being a healthy, active middle-aged man to a patient with full-blown liver disease requiring a transplant in a matter of four short years.

In spring 2008, Poluito was approved for the national liver transplant waiting list with an estimated 16,000 other transplant candidates across the country. But, in what many would consider a miracle, Poluito received his liver transplant only two days later at the U.Va. Health System. After only a week's stay in the hospital, he was able to go home to continue his recovery.

"Whenever people ask me my age, I like to tell them I consider myself 2 1/2 years old. That's how long it's been since I began my new life – when I got my liver transplant," said Poluito, 56, of Waynesboro, a continuing education media specialist at U.Va.

An avid golfer before his disease stripped him of his ability to play, Poluito recently returned from the U.S. Transplant Games in Wisconsin, where he had the opportunity to play golf as a transplant recipient athlete on Team Virginia.

"Competing in the golf competition at the Transplant Games was a great experience, but the best part of the games was meeting all of the other transplant recipient athletes, volunteers and the real heroes – the organ donor families," Poluito said.