Finding an organ transplant center that’s right for you

Dr. Rolf Barth transplant surgeon in Chicago
Dr. Rolf Barth with a transplant patient

The University of Chicago Medicine organ transplant program has experts in heart, kidney, liver, lung, multi-organ, and pancreas and islet transplantations. We know choosing the right transplant center can be a challenge and want our patients to feel comfort and confidence that the center they choose will meet their specific needs. Below, our organ transplant team answers questions many prospective patients face on their journey to finding the best place for a transplant, including information specific to UChicago Medicine.

What is the first step to finding a transplant center?

We always ask our patients to first make sure they have transplant coverage. This involves speaking to their insurance company, and in some cases, a financial coordinator at the transplant center.

Additionally, we tell patients to ask about all their treatment options and look into the history of each center. At UChicago Medicine for example, we offer treatments such as islet transplantation, which is not found in every program. Experience and patient volumes say a lot about a center’s capabilities.

Location also matters. While many people choose centers that are more conveniently located, others travel outside their home states to find care that better meets their needs.

How do I choose the right transplant team?

We recommend that patients meet with their transplant physician(s) and team to establish their comfort level. Trust within an entire team is important to guaranteeing the best quality of care.

Your first visit at UChicago Medicine may be with a transplant coordinator, in a transplant education session or in an appointment with a physician who specializes in transplant.

Finding a team that is understanding and accommodating of your culture and identity is also essential.

For patients in need of multi-organ transplants, you’ll want to know that each doctor on your team — whatever their specialty — works collaboratively with one another during the entire process. In addition, you’ll want to ensure all the doctor’s notes from your transplant team are sent to your primary care provider.

What will my evaluation for transplant look like?

At UChicago Medicine, a transplant coordinator will help you set up all of your tests and meetings. You may need to take some time off work to complete tests, but coordinators work to ensure appointments are as convenient as possible.

Patients also receive reviews of their insurance coverage to calculate any out-of-pocket expenses related to the transplant itself and any medications that will be necessary following the transplant.

What kind of testing will I undergo before my transplant?

In order to find a transplant donor, patients will need to undergo testing for blood type, genetic markers and antibodies. Your tests may differ from someone else’s, depending on your specific medical history. After testing, your case will be reviewed by a team of specialty physicians to determine the best course of treatment.

What are resources that set some centers apart from others?

Making sure patients have the support they need through their entire transplant journey requires a well-rounded team of experts. You want to know that each team member will be available to support and educate you before, during and after your transplant.

At UChicago Medicine, you will have access to a social worker to help you navigate emotional and personal challenges, a financial coordinator to assist with insurance and billing, and a pharmacist to help with medication education. Child life experts are on hand to provide comfort, education and even fun for our pediatric patients. Dietitians will help you design a customized dietary regimen, and pharmacists will help you manage your medications and work to keep your drug costs as low as possible.

We are a bilingual transplant center with providers fluent in Spanish and Polish.

Finding a team that is understanding and accommodating of your culture and identity is also essential.

UChicago Medicine has a spiritual care team sensitive to differences in culture, race, religion, faith tradition and sexual orientation.

We are also a bilingual transplant center with providers fluent in Spanish and Polish.

What kind of education do I need to be receiving before and after my transplant?

You want to find a care team who is not only available to answer your questions but also who proactively educates you before, during and after your transplant. In addition to doctors at UChicago Medicine, staff nurses and dedicated pre- and post-transplant discharge coordinators teach patients everything they need to know about their care.

Post-transplant discharge coordinators will call you to check in on the day after you’re discharged, as well as five days after and then weekly for the first few months following your procedure. And pharmacists and other providers should teach patients about the importance of sticking to a strict medication regimen after their procedure, in order to help them stay healthy and live longer.

How does my weight affect my ability to get a transplant?

Some patients with obesity and higher body mass indexes (BMIs) may not be eligible for transplant surgery, because higher BMIs are linked to increased complications like infections, delayed wound healing and lower life expectancy of the newly transplanted organ — and not all centers have the same requirements.

If you do not meet a BMI requirement, you may want to choose a center that helps with weight loss. UChicago Medicine’s ACTNOW Clinic, which stands for “access to transplant through novel approaches to weight loss,” offers a medication-assisted program to help patients become eligible for transplant surgery and decrease risks of complications. We are among the first transplant centers in the country to offer this type of evidence-based, effective and comprehensive approach to weight loss.

What happens if I’ve had a previous transplant or blood transfusion?

Patients who have had a prior transplant or blood transfusion may become sensitized to organ donors, meaning they’re more likely to reject an organ from a donor. UChicago Medicine offers novel desensitization therapies for patients to help them live longer and improve their quality of life.

What is a living donor transplant?

Living donor transplants for kidney, liver and pancreas involve a small portion of an organ being removed from someone who is currently alive and a match for the organ. The procedure generally involves removing a small portion of the donor’s organ and scheduling a surgery (as opposed to waiting for a call that a match has been found).

UChicago Medicine offers living donor transplants, and your care team can help offer advice on how to find a donor who is willing to help.

Transplant surgeon Dr. John Fung

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