NKF Health Policy Director Becomes Living Donor During Donate Life Month;
Chooses MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to Give the Gift of Life

Miriam Godwin and Matthew Cooper, MD

WASHINGTON– While COVID-19 continues to dominant the United States healthcare system, nearly 100,000 Americans are still on a waitlist for a kidney transplant and each day 12 patients die waiting for a kidney. National Kidney Foundation (NKF) Health Policy Director Miriam Godwin knows these statistics all too well and made the altruistic decision to take action and help others by becoming a living donor during National Donate Life Month in April. Like all incredibly selfless living donors, Godwin made a conscious choice to help others, but please don’t call her a hero.

“It’s difficult to live with the knowledge that some of the most vulnerable people in our society such as the elderly, communities of color, and those with limited financial means are waiting for kidney transplants, especially when kidney patients have been at such exceptionally high risk from COVID-19,” said Miriam Godwin, NKF Health Policy Director and a kidney transplant living donor. “It’s my job to make kidney transplants more accessible, but the tools to create system-level change are limited and take time. No one should be denied the opportunity for kidney health because of the circumstances of their birth. I became a living donor because I knew I could help one person right now, so I did. It was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.”

Health inequities in the U.S. are well-documented for Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander people, who are all at increased risk for developing kidney disease. Black or African American people comprise 13% of the U.S. population yet represent 35% of those on dialysis for kidney failure. Hispanic or Latino people are 1.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic or non-Latino people to have kidney failure. Additional risk factors for kidney disease include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and family history.

“We consistently say the ability to save a life through living organ donation is within all of us, yet we’re uncertain if people hear our message. To have Miriam – someone who has supported the transplant community throughout her career with her work at NKF – choose to make this life saving gift is truly inspiring,” said Matthew Cooper, MD, Director, Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute and a member of NKF Board of Directors. “As the region’s leading transplant program, we are honored that Miriam purposely chose MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute on her journey to provide this gift of life.

Approximately 785,000 Americans have irreversible kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive. About 555,000 of these patients receive dialysis to replace kidney function, 230,000 live with a transplant. Depending on where a patient lives, the average wait time for a kidney transplant can be upwards of three to seven years. Living donations were responsible for a total of 5,726 transplants in 2020. Living organ donation not only saves lives, but it saves money too. Each year, Medicare spends approximately $89,000 per dialysis patient and less than half, $35,000, for a transplant.

“Kidney disease is a public health crisis estimated to affect 37 million adults in the United States, yet 90% don’t even know they have it,” said Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation and a kidney transplant recipient. “Miriam doesn’t want to be considered special and just wants living donation to be more commonplace, but what she did is incredibly special. The demand for kidney transplantation is so great that we are asking all adults in the U. S. to be more like Miriam and consider becoming a living donor.”

Miriam’s generous gift facilitated two transplants through a program called Paired Kidney Exchange. If a kidney patient and potential living donor don’t have compatible blood types, the donor may consider donating through this program and here’s how it works. If the recipient from one pair is compatible with the donor from the other pair, and vice versa– the transplant center may arrange for a "swap"–for two simultaneous transplants to take place. This allows two transplant candidates to receive organs and two donors to give organs although the original recipient/donor pairs were unable to do so with each other. This has been extended to allow chains of donors with multiple linked donor and recipient pairs, often facilitated by a good Samaritan donor, as Miriam did. These donations can take place within a single center or across the U.S., allowing these generous gifts to help many more patients in need.

Please consider becoming a living donor. To learn more about living organ donation, and kidney disease, go to MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute or www.kidney.org/livingdonation.

Kidney Disease Facts
In the United States, 37 million adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease—and approximately 90 percent don’t know they have it.  1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are at risk for chronic kidney disease. Risk factors for kidney disease include: diabeteshigh blood pressureheart diseaseobesity, and family history. People of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease. Blacks or African Americans are almost 4 times more likely than White Americans to have kidney failure. Hispanics are 1.3 times more likely than non-Hispanics to have kidney failure.

About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital licensed for 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C. Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options in a trusting and compassionate environment. MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer, and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership. The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute  is a top 10 highest volume transplant center in the nation for all organs (excluding thoracic); the regions’ only 5-tier liver transplant program for 1-year organ survival; is among the top 10 highest volume centers for kidney transplants and the second largest paired kidney exchange program (through the National Kidney Registry) in the country; is among the top 3 programs by volume for pancreas and pediatric liver transplants; and, is among the top 2 intestinal transplant programs by volume in the country.

About National Kidney Foundation Living Organ Donation Resources
THE BIG ASK: THE BIG GIVE platform, which provides nationwide outreach, is designed to increase kidney transplantation through training and tools that help patients and families find a living donor. It includes direct patient and caregiver support through our toll-free help line 855-NKF-CARES, peer mentoring from a fellow kidney patient or a living donor, online communities, an advocacy campaign to remove barriers to donation, and a multi-media public awareness campaign. All resources are free and designed to teach kidney patients, or their advocates, how to make a “big ask” to their friends, loved ones, or community to consider making a “big give,” a living organ donation. www.kidney.org/livingdonation.

About the National Kidney Foundation
The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive, and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the U.S. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org.

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Inflammasome activation linked to T-cell dysregulation and poor outcomes in comorbid COVID-19 patients, according to MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute led study

WASHINGTON –A study led by the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute (MGTI) and published today in the Journal of Hepatology shows that inflammation, resulting from heightened inflammasome activity, leads to immune dysregulation and ultimately severe disease for comorbid patients with COVID-19.

Early publicized risk profiles related to COVID-19 warned patients with inflammatory comorbidities including: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease were at increased risk of morbidity and mortality due to coronavirus. Included in these populations are patients with liver disease and liver transplant recipients, who are likely to have a co-occurrence of comorbid illnesses.

The study’s lead authors, Dr. Alexander Kroemer, transplant surgeon and MGTI scientific director, Dr. Khalid Khan, medical director of the Islet Cell Transplant Program and Dr. Thomas Fishbein, executive director of MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, recognized early on that transplant candidates and recipients were especially vulnerable populations when it came to COVID-19 and decided to better understand how to provide specialized care and treatment.

“Looking into the clinical courses and immune responses of our COVID-19 patients led us to explore the link between immune dysfunction and inflammatory comorbidities,” said, Dr. Kroemer. “Our preliminary data points to that link. The inflammasome and resulting inflammatory cell death, which may contribute to low lymphocyte and T-cell counts, has also been seen in other viral diseases such as HIV.”

The MGTI study, in collaboration with Amerimmune, a CLIA-certified laboratory, and SUNY Downstate Medical Center, examined the potentially critical role of the inflammasome in COVID-19 patient outcomes. The inflammasome, an intracellular protein complex, monitors and mediates the body’s inflammatory responses to injury or illness. Upon activation, it can induce a form of highly inflammatory cell death called pyroptosis which has two implications. First, it leads to release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, potentially contributing to the so-called cytokine storms that have been reported in severe cases of COVID-19. Second, it can drive immune dysfunction via T-cell and lymphocyte depletion, which prevents the adaptive immune system from mounting an effective antiviral immune response. Viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, which can further activate the inflammasome, could exacerbate and accelerate this detrimental immune response in patients who already have chronic activation.

The study is based on eight COVID-19 liver patients from the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute (MGTI), and eight matched COVID-19 non-liver patient controls from SUNY Downstate Medical Center (SUNY). The eight control patients from SUNY were matched based on age, gender, race, comorbidities, and COVID-19 outcome during the same time period.

About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital licensed for 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C. Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options within a trusting and compassionate environment.  MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership.

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MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute Implemented New Transplant Protocol and Performed More Kidney Transplants than any Other Hospital in U.S. During COVID-19 Pandemic.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute performed more kidney transplants than any other hospital in the U.S., and successfully safeguarded all its transplant recipients and living organ donors, from contracting COVID-19.

From March to May MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute performed 115 organ transplants – 90 of which were kidney transplants with 23 of them from living donors. This record number is nearly equal to the total number of transplants performed by all regional hospitals combined. bar graph of kidney transplants in the Washington, D.C. sourced by UNOS.org

In collaboration with MedStar Georgetown’s infectious disease team and the coordinated efforts across the MedStar Health System, the Transplant Institute took early and aggressive measures to implement the highest safety protocols to safeguard the health and wellness of vulnerable transplant recipients and living donors during the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Patients with organ failure are among the most vulnerable populations, and life-saving transplants are critical. While caring for patients with COVID-19 was an urgent mission, we could not abandon equally critical transplant patients. We surveyed best practices across the nation, evaluated which centers were surviving and which were not, and developed a systematic approach that was individualized for us. Working quickly and involving everyone from the top of the organization down lead to our success," Executive Director of the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, Dr. Thomas Fishbein, said. 

Many transplant programs around the country temporarily halted or significantly reduced the number of transplants they performed during this time. “It’s easy to say no,” said Dr. Matthew Cooper, director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation and a Professor of Surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine, said. “We are fortunate that with the hard work of the Institute, the administration here at MedStar Georgetown, and the overall MedStar Health system, we were able to say yes to keeping the open sign up.” 

The enhanced safety and infection prevention protocol included: priority COVID-19 testing for transplant recipients to rule out recipients who had the virus before they were transplanted, COVID-19-free units in the hospital to minimize infection risk for transplant patients, use of telehealth to reduce hospital visits for pre-screenings and post-transplant management and deploying travel nurses to patient homes for laboratory testing. These quick-actions reduced the risk of exposure before, during, and after transplant surgery.  

A significant number of transplant patients traveled from various parts of the country for their life-saving care at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. 

MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute is headquartered at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and provides life-restoring care to patients with end-stage organ failure. As one of the highest volume transplant programs in the United States, the Institute has performed more than 7,598 liver, kidney, pancreas, small bowel, colon, stomach, and multi-organ transplants to date. Additionally, the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute offers outpatient kidney evaluations at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, and other locations in Maryland and Virginia.

About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital licensed for 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C. Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options within a trusting and compassionate environment. MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer, and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research, and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership.


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Vacation Donation: Maryland Educator Receives Kidney Thanks to New Colleague’s Generous Gift

“I felt like the clock was ticking against me.”

Gary Simmons, of Glen Burnie, MD, was doing everything he could to maintain his healthy lifestyle while battling kidney failure caused by diabetes. He ate right, worked out three times a week, rode his bike over 30 miles every weekend, and just started a new job with the special education staff at Lindale Middle School in Linthicum, MD. Despite his best efforts, Simmons could tell that his condition was worsening late last year.

“It was an immediate fear of death that set in with me,” he says. “Not knowing that I had options to sustain my life. I have two young kids, and while my quality of life was deteriorating, their quality of life was deteriorating. I wasn’t able to do a lot of things that I needed to.”

Simmons sought help from transplant specialists at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, who immediately ordered dialysis treatment and listed him for a kidney transplant.

A Desperate Plea Answered

Danelle Chapman and Gary Simmons
Danelle Chapman and Gary Simmons

Simmons’ physicians explained that the only way to cut down his time on the waiting list was to find someone willing to give him one of his or her kidneys; a living donor.

“They talked about self-advocacy,” Simmons says. “I sent my story out to just about everyone that was in my e-mail contacts.”

That list included friends, family, and many of the people he had only recently contacted initially about his current position at Lindale Middle School. Simmons received a reply from his boss, Danelle Chapman, who hired him only a few months prior.

“She responded the next day saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to look into this to see if I can donate to you.’”

Simmons was shocked.

“I didn’t think it made any sense. She just gave me a job,” he says. “She really didn’t know me besides from school. I said, ‘Nobody’s really that kind.’ But it turns out she is.”

Choosing the Gift of Life

Chapman chairs the school’s special education department and, until Simmons’ e-mail, did not know the severity of her colleague’s illness. She says the decision to become his living donor was not a difficult one.

“First, I realized he was in his forties and raising two kids. I already knew about his work ethic and his community service. He’s just an all-around great guy,” Chapman says. “I felt like he had a lot to give, and it was important to extend the quality of his life so that he could be there for his kids and provide for them.”

She kept her word, undergoing tests and examinations at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute (MGTI) to determine if she could donate to Gary.

“It’s a phenomenal program,” Chapman says. “Everyone was very kind throughout in explaining the procedure. They were extremely supportive.”

Plotting a New Course

Unfortunately, the results of the tests showed that Chapman and Simmons were not a blood match, meaning that her kidney could not be donated directly. Fortunately, there are other options.“Paired kidney exchange (PKE) is just one of the tools we use to complete living donor transplants even if the donor and recipient are not biologically compatible,” says Jennifer Verbesey, MD, director of the Living Donor Transplant Program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “Through the exchange, we can connect our pairs with others in the same position across the country and ultimately find matches. The goal is to build donation chains so that two, three, four or more people can end up getting a new kidney instead of just one person.”

After agreeing to take part in the paired kidney exchange, Chapman could finally deliver the big news.

“I think the look on his face was very surprised,” Chapman recalls through laughter.

“I didn’t know whether to scream, to cry, or to shout. I’ll be honest, I was in such shock that I was motionless,” says Simmons. “It was amazing. God gave me a job and put me in a place where people were really looking after me.”

One Kidney Saving Two Lives

Simmons after his successful surgery
Simmons after his successful surgery

Coordinators at MGTI were able to fit both patients into the paired kidney exchange network. A blood match recipient was found for Chapman’s kidney and, in return, Simmons would receive a compatible kidney back from another donor in the exchange.

“It’s pretty amazing when I think about the impact because it definitely effects so many more people than just Gary,” Chapman says.

“She started off with the intention of helping me but, at the end of the day, she ended up saving two lives,” said Simmons.

Both successful surgeries took place during the same week in late July. Gary had his new kidney transplanted by Dr. Verbesey just two days before his birthday on July 25th. It’s a gift he will never forget.

“Danelle gave me a job, she gave me a birthday gift, and she gave me a kidney!” he says.

Overwhelming Support

In an additional show of support and kindness, another teacher from Lindale Middle School, Terra Greene, is serving as Simmons’ caretaker throughout his recovery from transplant surgery. Gary plans on returning to work in October or November. Chapman says she’ll be ready for the start of the new school year in late-August, and she is excited to eventually tell students all about her summer vacation.

MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute performs more living donor kidney transplants than any other healthcare institution in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. It is also recognized as a national leader in kidney exchange and the management of recipients and donors who are incompatible. Only a handful of transplant centers in the United States offer this option to their patients. For more information, visit: MedStarGeorgetown.org/LivingDonor

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Son Donates Kidney for Dad on His Own Busy Schedule, Thanks to New Program

In Season of Giving, Family is Thankful for the Gift of Life

(Washington, D.C.) A Virginia father has received a kidney transplant thanks to his son’s organ donation five months earlier and a program that is reducing another barrier to living donation, time.

In March 2018, 48 year-old Ivan Jones was surprised to be diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. He needed a transplant. 

“I knew right away that I wanted to donate a kidney to my dad,” says Amir Jones, 20.

But father and son’s blood types were incompatible. If Amir wanted to donate to his dad, the next option was to participate in the paired kidney exchange program so Ivan could be matched with a compatible living donor.  The schedule of testing and the intricate logistics of a paired kidney exchange made the date of his father’s transplant unpredictable.  Adding to the time pressure, the younger Jones had already been admitted to a prestigious research program at Princeton University which started in June.  As a senior studying Global Affairs at George Mason University, this was an important chance for Amir to learn from experts in his field. And graduation was scheduled for December 2018.

“In March he was already set to go to Princeton,” says Ivan Jones. “As his father, I didn’t want to hold him back and I didn’t want him to miss this important opportunity.  I know he worked hard to get accepted to the program.  But knowing my son, I knew he was going to figure something out so he could do both things.  It’s just who he is.”

Fortunately for father and son, they were able to participate in the Advanced Donation Program through the National Kidney Registry which would allow Amir Jones to do both. Amir could donate a kidney on his father’s behalf by scheduling his surgery at his own convenience. His father could then receive a voucher for a living organ in the future.

“Because living donation is the best option for recipients, transplant programs are trying to use this option in every possible way,” says Seyed Ghasemian, MD, transplant surgeon and director of Transplant Urology at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “This NKR program is making it possible for Amir to continue his education and continue with his plans, and for his father to receive a kidney from a living donor.  We expect nothing but long term success for both of them.”

“As one of the largest paired kidney exchange  programs in the country, we’re very fortunate to have a dedicated living donor team to make these types of innovative donations and transplant opportunities happen for our patients,” says Matthew Cooper, MD, director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at the MGTI.”

In late May 2018, Amir had surgery to donate his kidney to someone in the Washington, D.C. area.

Ivan Jones spent the summer getting worked up for his transplant.  Then in October, a living donor match in San Diego was offered to Ivan through the NKR. On November 14, about five and a half months after Amir’s donation, Ivan Jones had his kidney transplant.

Dr. Ghasemian performed both Amir’s kidney donation as well as his dad’s kidney transplant.

“At first I was frustrated that I couldn’t be a direct donor to my dad,” says Amir.  “But after realizing that I could help not only him, but someone else, was a real moment of gratitude for me.  Two weeks after my surgery, I was packing up my car and driving off to New Jersey for my program,” says Amir. “I’m just so grateful for this opportunity that allowed me to continue with my plans and for my dad to receive a kidney from a living donor.”

“It’s been overwhelming and amazing at the same time,” says Amir’s mother Pinky Jones.  “With Amir being 20, I realized he wasn’t asking me, he was telling me he was going to do this. And he was saving his dad’s life so there wasn’t much I could protest about that.”

“It’s been amazing that at there’s a program like this,” says Ivan.  “I just had no idea.  This is such a blessing. Amir is really big into helping others around the world. And now he’s helped not only me, but someone else in need.”  

As part of his curriculum at George Mason, Amir has traveled around the world to study other cultures. He is vice president of George Mason’s chapter of UNICEF and he works with a mentoring program that helps struggling high school students in Fairfax County.

Amir will be followed closely by physicians at the MGTI for a mandatory period of two years. After that Dr. Ghasemian recommends he visit his primary care provider for regular checkups.

“Very few transplant centers in the world have the resources or the experience with logistics and organization to be able to offer this to their potential donors and patients,” says Dr. Cooper.  “This shows MGTI’s high level of investment and belief in paired kidney exchange as one critical way to offer creative transplant options. We also have significant living donor benefits not offered at most centers to support and protect donors who give the gift of life.”

After graduation in December 2018, Amir plans to apply to law school with this experience behind him.

“I’m just so thankful for all that my dad, my family and I have been able to be part of this,” says Amir. 

More than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the United States.

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Brendan McNamara 
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New Treatments for Hepatitis-C Open New Possibilities for People Waiting for Kidney Transplant

Elliott Stevens

(Washington, D.C) Elliott Stevens of Maryland has a new kidney and is cured of hepatitis C after a transplant and treatment at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute that includes the use of newly approved anti-viral medications.

Stevens, 60 was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease in 2015.  He needed a transplant as soon as possible.  But because of his blood type and a national waiting list of nearly 100,000 patients, he was told his wait could be seven to eight years. In addition to having kidney disease, Stevens contracted hepatitis C after a blood transfusion he received as a child.

“I had to go on dialysis right away.  I know it saved my life but dialysis really tore down my body,” recalls Stevens, recently retired after 28 years at FedEx.  “I was hooked to a machine for four hours a day, three days a week and afterwards all I could do was crawl back into bed to rest.  I missed my wife and two daughters and could no longer travel.”

But in March of 2017 Stevens got a call from MedStar Georgetown.  A kidney was available. The catch was that the kidney was from a hepatitis C – positive donor.

“For more than a decade we have been using kidneys from hepatitis C-positive donors for some recipients already infected with the virus,” says MGTI Transplant Nephrologist Alexander Gilbert, M.D. “We can safely give hepatitis C-positive kidneys to patients who already have hepatitis C because in that case there is minimal risk of transmitting the disease since the patient has already been exposed.  Once we get the kidney into the recipient, we can then go back and treat the recipient and cure the hepatitis C. The newest advance in this process is better, more effective treatments for hepatitis C.”

And that’s just what happened in the case of Elliott Stevens.

“I have some family members who have high blood pressure and other health problems that mean they couldn’t be a living donor for me,” says Stevens. “I was weighing that seven year waiting list in front of me and being on dialysis and I looked at my wife and daughters and said, ‘yes I want to take a chance on this and spend more time with them,’” says Stevens.  “I didn’t want to wait seven years getting to a critical state medically where I might not be able to survive a kidney transplant.”

“This is exciting because in Mr. Stevens’ case we were able to shorten his wait time from seven or eight years, to barely 400 days, and then cure him of his hepatitis C,” says Matthew Cooper, M.D., director of Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation at the MGTI.

Estel Swayne

Estel Swayne, 60 of Maryland had a similar experience.  After living with diabetes since 1997 she found out in 2015 that she had contracted hepatitis C.

“While I was waiting for a kidney transplant, I was on dialysis,” recalls Swayne.  “I was so absolutely exhausted all the time.  I just went to dialysis and all I wanted was my bed.”

“We know that dialysis is not a comfortable or easy way to live. Studies show that patients live significantly longer with a kidney transplant versus dialysis,” says Dr. Cooper.

After a few months on the list for a kidney at MedStar Georgetown, Swayne received a kidney from a deceased donor who was hepatitis C-positive.  

“I already had hepatitis C, so it wasn’t going to make a difference to me,” says Swayne.  “It’s not like they could give me something I didn’t already have.  I knew I couldn’t stay on dialysis too long or other things should start happening to me and I might not be a transplant candidate.”

“What’s made this possible is the advent of new anti-viral medications approved in 2015 that we expect to permanently cure a patient of their hepatitis C more than 95% of the time, with few side effects and only a short course of treatment, about 12 weeks,” says Dr. Gilbert.  “The old hepatitis C medications only worked 60% of the time, came with serious side effects and had to be taken for six months or longer.”

“The last time I came for my checkup, there was no sign of hepatitis in my body,” says Stevens.  “I consider this a win-win.  I no longer have kidney disease and I am cured of hepatitis C.  I am so grateful and I feel wonderful. I am back to taking walks with my wife, spending more time with my daughters and I’m back to volunteering in my church.  I could not be happier.”

After her transplant in September 2016 and a course of the new hepatitis C medication, Swayne’s blood work confirmed that she is free of the hepatitis C virus.

“I feel great. I actually have the energy to do things,” says Swayne.  “I like to fish and hike and spend hours and hours in my garden.  I hadn’t been able to do these things in quite some time. I go all over the place now.”

Mr. Stevens with his family.
Mr. Stevens with his family.

“Our next step is to transplant hepatitis C-infected kidneys into carefully selected patients who need a kidney but do not have hepatitis C and then treat them for hepatitis C after transplant,” says Matthew Cooper, MD, “Our goal is to get them off the long waiting list and return them to their lives.”

The MGTI plans to increase the availability of kidneys from hepatitis C-positive donors through future studies.  

A recent study of 20 patients without hepatitis C, who received hepatitis C-positive kidneys, found that all were free of the disease after transplant and treatment. 

“This could be a game changer,” says Dr. Gilbert. “This wouldn’t be for everyone but could be ideal for patients who don’t do well on dialysis and who face longer wait times.  Their only choice for a new kidney might be to receive a kidney from a hepatitis C-positive donor, then get treatment for hepatitis C after transplant.”  

“I hope I can encourage others with my successful outcome along the way,” says Stevens.  “I just feel so grateful to my donor and to my Georgetown transplant team, that I hope I can give back what someone has given me, which is a second chance at life.”

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
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Brendan McNamara 
Media Relations Specialist
Office: 703-558-1593
[email protected]

Kidney Transplant Recipient Finds Her Donor Because of Mutual Love for Rescuing Dogs

Weetall with two German Shepherds (Washington, D.C.)  A mutual passion for rescuing animals has led to a successful living kidney donation between two dog lovers from Maryland.

Gary Simmont, 64 of Pasadena met 49 year old Laurel Weetall of Germantown through a German Shepherd rescue group a few years ago.   Simmont has three German Shepherds and has fostered several, sometimes nursing them through their final weeks of life. Weetall has volunteered as a photographer at numerous pet adoption events, capturing the faces of shelter animals looking for permanent homes.

“I love animals and photographing them is something that helps them get seen and potentially rescued into a forever home,” says Weetall. “I will do whatever I can to help an animal.”

Simmon and Weetall holding donor and recipient bansLuckily for Weetall, Simmont feels the same way about people.

When Weetall shared publicly with her Facebook friends that she needed a kidney due to a painful condition called PKD or polycystic kidney disease, Simmont came forward.

“I had no idea you could donate a kidney,” says Simmont who rehabilitates cars at his collision repair center.  “I saw what she was going through and I wanted to help. I found out that the risks are minimal to me and the benefits to her were so huge.  It was not a tough decision.”

Weetall was diagnosed with PKD in her mid-thirties.  “I had been living with extreme pain for 13 years,” she recalls.  “I was always so sick; I know people could see it in my eyes.”

Simmont had donated platelets dozens of times and was listed as an organ donor on his Maryland driver’s license but had not previously considered living organ donation.

On March 13, 2018 Matthew Cooper, MD, medical director of the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute’s (MGTI) Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation program, worked with Transplant Surgeon Seyed Reza Ghasemian to remove both of Weetall’s diseased kidneys.

“Due to the complexity of a planned removal of both enlarged and painful kidneys and live donor kidney transplant, Laurel chose MGTI as one of the few centers in the United States to offer this combined procedure,” says Dr. Cooper.  “The cooperative expertise of myself and Dr. Ghasemian helped us work together to safely and successfully complete this operation.”

In an operating room right next door, Jennifer Verbesey, MD, director of the Institute’s Living Kidney Donor Transplant Program, was working to remove Simmont’s kidney. It was then carried into Weetall’s operating room where Dr. Cooper finished the transplant.

Simmont and Weetall holding a shirt that says "i run on spare parts - kidney transplant"

“With more than 90-thousand people on the waiting list for a kidney in the U.S. today, we explain to our patients that receiving a kidney from a living donor is really the best option for them,” says Dr. Cooper.  “Organs from living donors last longer, the transplant can usually be done sooner and can be scheduled at their convenience, rather than waiting for an organ from a deceased donor. In Laurel’s case this genetic disorder meant that she would eventually need a new kidney. “

“Our kidney donors are amazing people for giving of themselves in this way,” says Dr Verbesey. We encourage people who need an organ to feel empowered to discuss what they’re going through with their family members and friends who might just be willing to come forward. Organ recipients can find their donors in so many different ways.  I think this shows the level of altruism among people who just have that spirit of wanting to help when people or animals need them.”Donor, Simmont with his white shepherd

“Saying ‘thank you’ to Gary hardly seems like enough,” says Weetall.  “We both have a strong passion for saving animals and I think he just has rescue in his heart. He rescued me. He gave me the gift of life.”

When Simmont saw Weetall two months after the transplant he couldn’t believe her transformation.

“To see her was really a moving thing. She had good color in her face; she just looked different,” says Simmont. “She didn’t look tired or drawn out and she told me, ‘I’m not in constant pain, thanks to you.’ “

As a thank you, Weetall made Simmont a photo book of all his dogs including Sam, his prized white shepherd.

“It was an incredible journey says Simmont. “ I didn’t want to focus on the magnitude of the gift I gave her.  My inconvenience was so minimal compared to the new life she has in front of her.”

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

Brendan McNamara 
Media Relations Specialist
Office: 703-558-1593
[email protected]

MedStar Georgetown’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program Celebrates its 100th Transplant

(Washington, D.C.)  In April 2017 MedStar Georgetown’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant (BMT) Program celebrated an exciting milestone by performing its 100th transplant.

Stem cell transplantation is the only curative therapy for a number of malignant and non-malignant diseases of the blood and bone marrow. Autologous transplants use a patient’s own bone marrow or stem cells while allogeneic transplants use a donor’s bone marrow or stem cells.

June Batcheller from Arlington, VA was first diagnosed in June 2016 with solitary bone plasmacytoma in one of her ribs. After 33 rounds of radiation she thought she was on track for recovery. However, in December 2016 she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

After being referred to the BMT Program at MedStar Georgetown, Batcheller received two rounds of chemotherapy.  After that physicians determined she was eligible for a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

On April 26, 2017, Batcheller became the program’s 100th stem cell transplant recipient. 

“This is the closest step we’ve been to the finish line,” said Batcheller after receiving the transplant. “I feel relieved in some ways now.”

Dr. Pashna Munshi performed the 100th transplant and says the highly specialized team of physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals, including pre-transplant coordinators, the Apheresis team, nurses, dietitians, social workers and other support staff provide expert care to the patients and also their families.

“People in the D.C. area really do have the ability to receive state of the art care from our program since we are the only program of its kind in this area. We pride ourselves on supporting the patient and the family because that is MedStar Georgetown’s mission of cura personalis – caring for the whole person. It is important to us that our patients feel supported every step of the way,” said Dr. Munshi.

The Hospital’s BMT program is the only comprehensive BMT center within Washington, D.C. and southern Maryland with accreditation from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT) for adult, autologous procedures.

The BMT Program is a joint effort with specialists from the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, and a key component of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“One hundred completed procedures demonstrates that our program has achieved a level of maturity and experience that means top-level, sophisticated care for our cancer patients,” says Scott Rowley, MD, chief of the BMT program at MedStar Georgetown as well as a member of the John Theurer Cancer Center’s Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Division.

During the BMT Program’s first year in 2013, the team performed four autologous transplants. In just a short amount of time the program has continued to grow and reach this milestone of 100 total autologous and allogeneic transplants.

After a successful 30-year career in financial services, mostly recently serving as the chief compliance officer for a major online brokerage, Batcheller enjoys spending time with her husband, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and her family, all avid fans of the Washington Capitals. During her stay at MedStar Georgetown, the Washington Capital’s mascot Slapshot even stopped by to check on her recovery.

 “Our program is continuing to grow and in 2017 we have performed 20 autologous transplants. We are looking forward to submitting our FACT accreditation for allogeneic transplants this summer and continuing to be a leader in the region,” said Dr. Munshi.

Supporting this growth and the emphasis on patient care is the newly renovated Emily and Neil Kishter Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Clinic that officially opened in August 2016. The space features upgraded exam rooms, provider work areas, four infusion bays and a waiting room. MedStar Georgetown is also home to the largest Blood and Marrow Collection Program (BMCP) collection site for the National Marrow Donor program.  

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

New Cures for Hepatitis C Mean Avoiding Liver Transplant

A Daily Pill Cures Hepatitis C in Months

“It’s a hidden disease. A lot of people, me included, don't know they have hepatitis C until they have a blood test,” says Duncan MacInnes, during a recent visit to the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute.

MacInnes, 69, was infected with hepatitis C while working overseas, when doctors used unclean needles to give injections in the 1970’s. He didn’t know about his condition until the 1990’s. Hepatitis C damaged his liver by causing extreme scarring, called cirrhosis, a late stage of fibrosis that is now reversible with oral medications.

After five rounds of Interferon, which involves a year of injections three times each week and many side effects, doctors recently used new pills to treat MacInnes’s hepatitis C. Simple oral drugs and the liver’s ability to regenerate and heal itself cured his hepatitis C and helped him avoid a liver transplant.

“When a patient is cured of hepatitis C, the patient they may be able to avoid or delay liver transplant,” says Rohit Satoskar, MD and medical director of the Liver Screening Program at Liver Transplantation the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “More than 95 percent of patients with chronic hepatitis C can now be cured with well-tolerated oral medications today.”

About 3.5 million people live with hepatitis C in the United States, according to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Similar to MacInnes’s experience, many people are living with hepatitis C and don’t know it or know that there is a cure. MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute offers liver screening tests and oral treatments, including a pill that can cure hepatitis C with no side effects in fewer than six months.

“Traditionally, hepatitis C has been a leading cause for liver transplant and liver cancer. Liver transplants for hepatitis C-related disease are falling, and it’s likely happening because we are able to treat more people and prevent them from getting to that point,” says Dr. Satoskar.

Testing for Hepatitis C

A simple blood test shows doctors if a person has hepatitis C. The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute provides free liver screening tests to help with early diagnosis of hepatitis C and other conditions, which prevents the progression to serious liver diseases, like liver cancer, and the eventual need for transplant. With two small tubes of blood, providers screen for hepatitis C and receive test results within seven days.

“The test is very simple, and now that there’s a cure, there really is no reason not to get tested,” says Maccines.

Curing Hepatitis C

“What we’ve seen with the progress against hepatitis C is truly revolutionary.  Since the 1980’s we’ve gone from not knowing about the virus, to now being able to cure it,” says Dr. Satoskar.

Physicians use the following oral medications from a range of 8 to 24 weeks to cure hepatitis C today:

  • Harvoni
  • Epclusa
  • Zepatier
  • Viekira
  • Daklinza and Sovaldi

“New Hepatitis C treatments are simple. Patients are now able to use pills that are side effect-free and for short durations of time to treat this disease. It’s just so fantastically different compared to what it was back during out Interferon days in the 1990’s,” says Andrea Keller, physician assistant with the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute who has followed MacInnes’s care for several years. “Mr. MacInnes is a very sweet man. His resilience and drive to treat this disease has been like no one else I’ve seen. He’s really forthcoming with feedback and always ready to try the next treatment in hope of a cure. Finally, we had success.”

A Hidden and ‘Most Common’ Disease

Hepatitis C is a viral infection which causes inflammation of the liver. The disease has short-term and long-term effects, but most people will not experience symptoms until problems arise due to liver damage.

A recent CDC report shows that cases of hepatitis C nearly tripled from 2010-2015. With an outstanding undiagnosed population, doctors say baby boomers or those a part of the current opioid epidemic should especially get tested for hepatitis C.

For more information about the liver screening program at MedStar Georgetown, please contact Chloe Shreve, liver program coordinator, at [email protected] and 703-639-0616.

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]

A Simple, Non-Surgical Liver Test Provides Accurate Information About Liver Health in Minutes

FibroScan Better Assesses Liver Health 


Washington, D.C., May 16, 2017  - “That’s it? That was quick!”says Marc Calanog, 73, as he lay on the exam table after his first FibroScan test, at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

With his left hand stretched above his head, and his shirt pulled up to his chest, Calanog’s Fibroscan took about five minutes, and was as easy as an ultrasound of his abdomen. 

In his case, physicians want to know if Calanog’s hepatitis B has caused any damage to his liver. Fibroscan is used to check for scarring on the liver as well as signs of fatty liver disease, which can lead to the need for a liver transplant.

In the past, doctors required a liver biopsy, an invasive procedure that sometimes requires moderate sedation, to understand the staging of a liver disease and identify the amount of fat on the liver. The side-effects of a liver biopsy include soreness of the area biopsied and possible bleeding and infection.

“One of the most important things for physicians to determine is if the patient is on the road to extreme scarring in the liver called cirrhosis and potentially liver cancer,” said Rohit Satoskar, MD and director of the Liver Screening Program at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute. “Fibroscan is a way that we can estimate how much scarring is in the liver without doing the traditional, invasive liver biopsy.”

FibroScan uses Vibration-Controlled Transient Elastography to accurately measure tissue stiffness, an indication of liver damage. This non-invasive technique helps doctors identify liver damage from a variety of conditions, including hepatitis C, hepatitis B, fatty liver disease and fibrosis.

Calanog visits MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute for continual monitoring of his hepatitis B and other conditions. Although there is no cure available for Calanog’s hepatitis B, his Fibroscan results help his doctors choose the best direction for his care.

“I’m convinced that, with this FibroScan information, my doctor will be more informed about my liver and know how to better guide my treatment,” says Calanog.

Early diagnosis of liver conditions prevents the progression of serious liver diseases and the eventual need for a liver transplant.

“The problem with most liver diseases is that they are silent until you get very advanced disease,” said Dr. Satoskar, “so it’s very important to get screened.”

For more information about the liver screening program at MedStar Georgetown, please contact Chloe Shreve, liver program coordinator, at [email protected] and 703-698-9254.

Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
Office: 703-558-1287
Pager: 202-405-2824
[email protected]