UC Davis shuts down liver transplant center

December 16, 2008 7:15:05 PM PST
At 59 years old, Gary Martin's liver is failing. After nearly a year of preparation, he thought he was on the verge of a life-saving transplant.

"Two to four months is what they were hoping," Martin said.

Then he received a call from the UC Davis Medical Center that could leave him in limbo for much longer. The center's liver transplant program, which serves the greater Sacramento area, is suddenly shutting down.

"I would have tried to get on to another program, there's no doubt about it," Martin said. "It's just like dropping a rock on you; I have two granddaughters that I want to be around for many years."

UC Davis says the program is a victim of tightening budgets. They will continue to perform transplants in the short term, but many patients like Martin will now have to be shifted into transplant programs in the Bay Area at Stanford, UCSF, or California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Which liver patients are given priority is usually based on a formula.

"The meld score lists people based on how ill they are," Dr. Catherine Frenette said. Frenette works with the liver program at CPMC. "So regardless of how long you've been on the list, whoever has the highest meld score gets the liver."

But that is not the whole story, according to Frenette. Since the Davis program was smaller, those patients likely had fewer people ahead of them.

"By default, anyone coming from a small OPO like Davis, that one closes, they're going to end up on a list where there are more people competing for less livers, so they're going to wind up waiting longer," Frenette said.

UCSF currently has some 850 liver patients on its waiting list, Stanford and CPMC, about 450 apiece.

It is not clear how much longer patients like Martin will have to wait for a liver; he just knows he feels cheated.

"How else can you take it, it's your life in the balance," Martin said.


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