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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008 09:48 pm

Memorial temporarily halts kidney transplant program

Patients may transfer to MMC’s previous transplant director, Timothy O’Connor

Dr. Timmothy O’Connor, former director of Memorial Center’s transplant program, is now associated with OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

Dialysis patients on the waiting list for a kidney transplant at Memorial Medical Center received bad news last week: The hospital will suspend its transplant program for at least three to four months, effective Oct. 1.

In a letter dated Sept. 19, Rebecca Anderson, the director of transplant and bariatric surgery services at Memorial, notified patients that this "voluntary, temporary hold status" is due to the retirement of a "key physician." Resumption of the transplant program depends on "the recruitment and selection of a transplant nephrologist to head the program," according to the letter. A nephrologist is a specialist in the treatment of kidney disease and kidney insufficiency.

Dr. Edward Alfrey, the surgeon who directs Memorial's transplant program, will manage the care of the 300 or so patients who have already received transplants.

Patients currently on the waiting list to receive a kidney or a pancreas will not lose any of their time credit — one of the crucial factors that determines who receives an available organ. Memorial will help patients transfer to one of three nearby transplant programs: Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, University of Illinois at Chicago, or OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

Patients who choose to transfer to Peoria will find a familiar face — Dr. Timothy O'Connor, the transplant surgeon who was director of Memorial's kidney transplant program until late 2006, and is now affiliated with St. Francis.

The suspension will affect patients who are already on the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list as well as patients waiting to undergo evaluation to be put on the list.

Though the Memorial letter did not name the physician whose retirement necessitated this suspension, sources say it was Dr. Sumanta Mitra, who has been associated with the transplant program for more than 30 years. The Web site www.healthgrades.com indicates that Mitra graduated from medical school 47 years ago.

Michael Leathers, media relations coordinator for Memorial, had not heard about the letter when initially contacted by Illinois Times last week. This week, he responded with an e-mail saying that Memorial has been "working for the last year on several plans . . . in light of an impending retirement." He did not specify what those plans were.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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