University Health Transplant Institute named best liver transplant program in country

Excellent patient survival rates, the ability to transplant a significant number of patients and shorter wait times for life-saving surgeries are among the many reasons University Health Transplant Institute is being designated the No. 1 liver transplant program in the country.

The recognition comes from INTERLINK, a managed care company that evaluated 86 liver transplant programs by considering more than 30 performance factors.

“INTERLINK is proud to award University Health with our 2023 Chairman’s Award for excellence in delivering the highest quality liver transplant care,” INTERLINK Medical Director Dr. Richard Freeman said.

The Transplant Institute’s liver program scores well above the national average on many metrics. It provides a large volume of liver transplants, 131 in 2022. Patient outcomes are outstanding, with a one-year survival rate of 97% compared to a national average of 94%.

“Our guiding principle is to do everything possible to improve the quality of life for our patients,” said Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, Transplant Institute director and professor of surgery at UT Health San Antonio.

“Equally important is to recruit and retain exemplary physicians, health care providers and staff who have a passion for the field of transplantation and patient care,” he said, emphasizing a team effort.

A collaboration that includes University Health, academic partner UT Health San Antonio and the internationally recognized Texas Liver Institute has contributed to a transplant program that combines advanced liver disease research with superior clinical care.

“We have become a destination for those afflicted with liver disease and liver cancer,” said Dr. Fred Poordad, co-founder of the Texas Liver Institute and chief of transplant hepatology for the program. “The Texas Liver Institute is a proud partner of the University Health Transplant Institute and will continue to uphold the same high standards that has made this a success story. The focus of everything we do is the patients.”

Through this collaboration, the patient’s wait for a liver is also much shorter than at most other programs. That, in part, is because an increasing number of organs come from living donors. In addition to often being healthier than livers from deceased donors, living donor organs are more quickly available for transplant.

The Transplant Institute credits its Champion for Life outreach and education program with encouraging living organ donation. The program has helped increase the number of its liver transplants with living donor organs from 7% in 2017 to 37% in 2022.

Jennifer Milton, chief administrator for the transplant program and national chair for Donate Life America, said the team’s goal of saving lives goes beyond the walls of the Transplant Institute. It includes sharing their formula for excellent survival rates and increased living organ transplants with other centers.

“We share it. We strive to teach as many other programs as possible how we do it,” she said.

This award follows the recent announcement of another achievement. In 2022, the University Health Transplant Institute performed more pediatric transplants with kidneys from living donors than any other transplant program in the country.

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