A story in the Fort Wayne News Sentinel Nov 2010, described how a woman named Mary Patalita became a nondirected kidney donor at Lutheran Hospital of Fort Wayne. Several facts are disclosed in the story that the writer apparently didn’t realize were interesting.

First, Lutheran Hospital didn’t become a transplant center until 2007. Transplant medicine is probably the most complex area of surgery (yes, more complex than brain surgery or cancer). It is unlikely the hospital already had the managerial skills, surgical talent, and funding to run a transplant center prior to making the decision to open it. That means the management of the hospital made a big bet that opening a transplant center would be an important strategic advantage in drawing patients and staff.

Second, the story says that this year the hospital has performed 19 transplants, 12 with living donors and “no more than three have been altruistic.” The implication is that 3 is a low number.

Let’s compare that to other hospitals in the U.S. In 2009, the hospital with the most number of nondirected donors was Pinnacle Heath Systems at Harrisburg with 9. For the three-year period from 2007 to 2009, the hospital with the most nondirected donors was the Univ. Minnesota with 14, which averages to just over 4 per year. (See my Jul 2010 blog post and the spreadsheet with data on SkyDrive.) If Lutheran Hospital actually had 3 nondirected donors this year, it is one of the top hospitals in the U.S. in attracting nondirected donors.

On a percentage basis, the results are even more impressive. If  3 out of their 12 live donors were nondirected then that would be 25% . Looking at the UNOS data, in 2009, nondirected donors accounted for about 150 out of 6,200 live donor transplants, or about 2.4%. That means Lutheran Hospital has 10 times the national average. (See my Jun 2010 blog post for more.) Assuming the story is correct, 3 nondirected donors in one year is an incredible result for a small transplant center.

The final interesting fact in the story is that Ms Patalita met her recipient two weeks before the surgery. Every transplant center has its own rules about contact between donor and recipient. Some don’t allow any, even after surgery; the donation remains truly anonymous. Some, like the Univ. Washington where I had my surgery, allow contact a few weeks or months after surgery. Some allow some information to pass between donor and recipient prior to surgery, but no face-to-face contact until afterwards. Lutheran is the only hospital I am aware of that permits contact before the surgery.

Thanks to Harvey Mysel of the Living Kidney Donors Network for pointing out this story to me.