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What You Need To Know About Your Liver and The Transplant Process


By Bob Aronson

cartoonThe liver is an incredibly important organ and the only one in the human body that can regenerate itself.  It is second only in size to the skin (yes the skin is an organ) and has been described as boomerang shaped.  Virtually every nutrient we consume passes through the liver so it can be processed and turned into a different biochemical form for use by other organs.

Located just below the rib cage in the upper right side of your abdomen the liver has three main functions.  It helps in digestion makes proteins and helps eliminate toxic substances.the liver

The liver is the only organ in the body that can easily replace damaged cells, but if enough cells are lost, the liver may not be able to meet the needs of the body.

The liver is like a very complex factory.  Included in its many functions are:          http://www.medicinenet.com/liver_anatomy_and_function/images-quizzes/index.htm

  • Production of bile that is required in the digestion of food, in particular fats;
  • Storing of the extra glucose or sugar as glycogen, and then converting it back into glucose when the body needs it for energy;
  • Production of blood clotting factors;
  • Production of amino acids (the building blocks for making proteins), including those used to help fight infection;
  • The processing and storage of iron necessary for red blood cell production;
  • Manufacture of cholesterol and other chemicals required for fat transport;
  • Conversion of waste products of body metabolism into urea that is excreted in the urine; and
  • Metabolizing medications into their active ingredient in the body.
  • Cirrhosis is a term that describes permanent scarring of the liver. In cirrhosis, the normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue that cannot perform any liver function.
  • Acute liver failure may or may not be reversible, meaning that on occasion, there is a treatable cause and the liver may be able to recover and resume its normal functions.

The Liver can be affected by any one of a number of diseases.  Click on the item of interest in the list below for a complete explanation.

The Liver Disease Information Center provides information on a variety of topics related to liver health and liver diseases

liver disease. http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/

How does alcohol affect the liver? (From the American Liver Foundation)  http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/alcohol/

Alcohol can damage or destroy liver cells.

liver disease stagesThe liver breaks down alcohol so it can be removed from your body. Your liver can become injured or seriously damaged if you drink more alcohol than it can process.

What are the different types of alcohol-related liver disease?

There are three main types of alcohol-related liver disease: alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Alcoholic fatty liver disease
Alcoholic fatty liver disease results from the deposition of fat in liver cells. It is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease. There are usually no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include fatigue, weakness, and discomfort localized to the right upper abdomen. Liver enzymes may be elevated, however tests of liver function are often normal. Many heavy drinkers have fatty liver disease. Alcoholic fatty liver disease may be reversible with abstinence of alcohol.

Alcoholic hepatitis
Alcoholic hepatitis is characterized by fat deposition in liver cells, inflammation and mild scarring of the liver. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and jaundice. Liver enzymes are elevated and tests of liver function may be abnormal. Up to 35 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis and of these 55% already have cirrhosis.

Alcoholic hepatitis can be mild or severe. Mild alcoholic hepatitis may be reversed with abstinence. Severe alcoholic hepatitis may occur suddenly and lead to serious complications including liver failure and death.

Alcoholic cirrhosis
Alcoholic cirrhosis, the most advanced type of alcohol induced liver injury is characterized by severe scarring and disruption of the normal structure of the liver — hard scar tissue replaces soft healthy tissue. Between 10 and 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis. Symptoms of cirrhosis may be similar to those of severe alcoholic hepatitis. Cirrhosis is the most advanced type of alcohol-related liver disease and is not reversed with abstinence. However, abstinence may improve the symptoms and signs of liver disease and prevent further damage

The Liver Transplant

Liver transplants are performed only for patients with end-stage liver disease for whom standard medical and surgical therapies have failed. Conditions that can lead to liver transplantation include: transplant(http://www.barnesjewish.org/conditions-leading-to-liver-transplant)

Liver transplants are the second most common transplants after kidneys.  They require that the blood type and body size of the donor match the person receiving the new organ. There are more  6,000 liver transplants are performed each year in the United States. The surgery usually takes between four and twelve hours and most patients can expect a hospital stay of up to three weeks following surgery. . .

Essential Information For The Transplant Patient

Most transplant centers function in pretty much the same manner, but Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland offers one of the best summaries of what the transplant patient can expect.  http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/gastroenterology/liver_transplantation_procedure_92,P07698/

Risks of the procedure

As with any surgery, complications can occur. Some complications from liver transplantation may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blockage of the blood vessels to the new liver
  • Leakage of bile or blockage of bile ducts
  • Initial lack of function of new liver

The new liver may not function for a brief time after the transplant. The new liver may also be rejected. Rejection is a normal reaction of the body to a foreign object or tissue. When a new liver is transplanted into a recipient’s body, the immune system reacts to what it perceives as a threat and attacks the new organ, not realizing that the transplanted liver is beneficial. To allow the organ to survive in a new body, medications must be taken to trick the immune system into accepting the transplant and not attacking it as a foreign object.

Contraindications for liver transplantation include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Current or recurring infection that cannot be treated effectively
  • Metastatic cancer. This is cancer that has spread from its primary location to one or more additional locations in the body.
  • Severe cardiac or other medical problems preventing the ability to tolerate the surgical procedure
  • Serious conditions other than liver disease that would not improve after transplantation
  • Noncompliance with treatment regimen
  • Alcohol consumption

There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to the procedure.

Before the procedure

In order to receive a liver from an organ donor who has died (cadaver), a recipient must be placed on a waiting list of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Extensive testing must be done before an individual can be placed on the transplant list.

Because of the wide range of information necessary to determine eligibility for transplant, the evaluation process is carried out by a transplant team. The team includes a transplant surgeon, a transplant hepatologist (doctor specializing in the treatment of the liver), one or more transplant nurses, a social worker, and a psychiatrist or psychologist. Additional team members may include a dietitian, a chaplain, and/or an anesthesiologist.

Components of the transplant evaluation process include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Psychological and social evaluation. Psychological and social issues involved in organ transplantation, such as stress, financial issues, and support by family and/or significant others are assessed. These issues can significantly impact the outcome of a transplant.
  • Blood tests. Blood tests are performed to help determine a good donor match, to assess your priority on the donor list, and to help improve the chances that the donor organ will not be rejected.
  • Diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests may be performed to assess your liver as well as your overall health status. These tests may include X-rays, ultrasound procedures, liver biopsy, and dental examinations. Women may receive a Pap test, gynecology evaluation, and a mammogram.

The transplant team will consider all information from interviews, your medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests in determining your eligibility for liver transplantation.

Once you have been accepted as a transplant candidate, you will be placed on the UNOS list. Candidates in most urgent need of a transplant are given highest priority when a donor liver becomes available based on UNOS guidelines. When a donor organ becomes available, you will be notified and told to come to the hospital immediately.

If you are to receive a section of liver from a living family member (living-related transplant), the transplant may be performed at a planned time. The potential donor must have a compatible blood type and be in good health. A psychological test will be conducted to ensure the donor is comfortable with the decision.

The following steps will precede the transplant:

  • Your doctor will explain the procedure to you and offer you the opportunity to ask any questions about the procedure.
  • You will be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the surgery. Read the form carefully and ask questions if something is not clear.
  • For a planned living transplant, you should fast for eight hours before the operation, generally after midnight. In the case of a cadaver organ transplant, you should begin to fast once you are notified that a liver has become available.
  • You may receive a sedative prior to the procedure to help you relax.
  • Based on your medical condition, your doctor may request other specific preparation.

During the procedure

Liver transplantation requires a stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your doctor’s practices.

Generally, a liver transplant follows this process:

  • You will be asked to remove your clothing and given a gown to wear.
  • An intravenous (IV) line will be started in your arm or hand. Additional catheters will be inserted in your neck and wrist to monitor the status of your heart and blood pressure, as well as for obtaining blood samples. Alternate sites for the additional catheters include the subclavian (under the collarbone) area and the groin.
  • You will be positioned on the operating table, lying on your back.
  • If there is excessive hair at the surgical site, it may be clipped off.
  • A catheter will be inserted into your bladder to drain urine.
  • After you are sedated, the anesthesiologist will insert a tube into your lungs so that your breathing can be controlled with a ventilator. The anesthesiologist will continuously monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the surgery.
  • The skin over the surgical site will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution.
  • The doctor will make a slanting incision just under the ribs on both sides of the abdomen. The incision will extend straight up for a short distance over the breast bone.
  • The doctor will carefully separate the diseased liver from the surrounding organs and structures.
  • The attached arteries and veins will be clamped to stop blood flow into the diseased liver.
  • Depending on several factors, including the type of transplant being performed (whole liver versus a portion of liver), different surgical techniques may be used to remove the diseased liver and implant the donor liver or portion of the liver.
  • The diseased liver will be removed after it has been cut off from the blood vessels.
  • The doctor will visually inspect the donor liver or portion of liver prior to implanting it.
  • The donor liver will be attached to the blood vessels. Blood flow to the new liver will be established and then checked for bleeding at the suture lines.
  • The new liver will be connected to the bile ducts.
  • The incision will be closed with stitches or surgical staples.
  • A drain may be placed in the incision site to reduce swelling.
  • A sterile bandage or dressing will be applied.

After the procedure In the hospital

After the surgery you may be taken to the recovery room before being taken to the intensive care unit (ICU) to be closely monitored for several days. Alternately, you may be taken directly to the ICU from the operating room. You will be connected to monitors that will constantly display your EKG tracing, blood pressure, other pressure readings, breathing rate, and your oxygen level. Liver transplant surgery requires an in-hospital stay of seven to 14 days, or longer.recovery

You will most likely have a tube in your throat so that your breathing can be assisted with a ventilator until you are stable enough to breathe on your own. The breathing tube may remain in place for a few hours up to several days, depending on your situation.

You may have a thin plastic tube inserted through your nose into your stomach to remove air that you swallow. The tube will be removed when your bowels resume normal function. You will not be able to eat or drink until the tube is removed.

Blood samples will be taken frequently to monitor the status of the new liver, as well as other body functions, such as the kidneys, lungs, and blood system.

You may be on special IV drips to help your blood pressure and your heart and to control any problems with bleeding. As your condition stabilizes, these drips will be gradually weaned down and turned off as tolerated.

Once the breathing and stomach tubes have been removed and your condition has stabilized, you may start liquids to drink. Your diet may be gradually advanced to more solid foods as tolerated.

Your immunosuppression (antirejection) medications will be closely monitored to make sure you are receiving the optimum dose and the best combination of medications.

When your doctor feels you are ready, you will be moved from the ICU to a room on a regular nursing unit or transplant unit. Your recovery will continue to progress here. Your activity will be gradually increased as you get out of bed and walk around for longer periods of time. Your diet will be advanced to solid foods as tolerated.

Nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, physical therapists, and other members of the transplant team will teach you how to take care of yourself once you are discharged from the hospital.

At home

Once you are home, it will be important to keep the surgical area clean and dry. Your doctor will give you specific bathing instructions. The stitches or surgical staples will be removed during a follow-up office visit, if they were not removed before leaving the hospital.

You should not drive until your doctor tells you to. Other activity restrictions may apply.

Notify your doctor to report any of the following:

  • This may be a sign of rejection or infection.
  • Redness, swelling, or bleeding or other drainage from the incision site
  • Increase in pain around the incision site. This may be a sign of infection or rejection.
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

Your doctor may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

What is done to prevent rejection?

To allow the transplanted liver to survive in a new body, you will be given medications for the rest of your rejectionlife to fight rejection. Each person may react differently to medications, and each transplant team has preferences for different medications.

New antirejection medications are continually being developed and approved. Doctors tailor medication regimes to meet the needs of each individual patient.

Usually several antirejection medications are given initially. The doses of these medications may change frequently, depending on your response. Because antirejection medications affect the immune system, people who receive a transplant will be at higher risk for infections. A balance must be maintained between preventing rejection and making you very susceptible to infection.

Some of the infections you will be especially susceptible to include oral yeast infection (thrush), herpes, and respiratory viruses. You should avoid contact with crowds and anyone who has an infection for the first few months after your surgery.

The following are the most common symptoms of rejection. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Fever
  • A yellowing of the skin and eyes due to bile pigments in the blood.
  • Dark urine
  • Itching
  • Abdominal swelling or tenderness
  • Fatigue or irritability
  • Headache
  • Nausea

The symptoms of rejection may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Consult your transplant teaoncerns you have. Frequent visits to and contact with the transplant team are essential.

Organ transplants are expensive and the cost goes well beyond the surgery itself.  If you are told you need a transplant and are sent to a transplant center for evaluation you can bet one of the first questions you will be asked is, “Do you have the financial resources to pay for your transplant?”

According to the National Foundation for Transplants http://www.transplants.org/faq/how-much-does-transplant-cost the average cost of a liver transplant and first year expenses in the United States is $575,000.

The Mayo Clinic developed this helpful list of questions that will help you develop the answer to that question. http://www.mayoclinic.org/departments-centers/transplant-center/liver-transplant/choosing-mayo-clinic/costs-insurance-information

Insurance information

Before your transplant, it’s important that you work closely with your insurance company to understand your benefit plan. You’ll be responsible for any of your transplant and medical care costs not covered by your insurance company.costs

You may want to ask your insurance company several questions regarding your transplant expenses, including:

  • What is the specific coverage of my plan? What are my deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, lifetime maximum amount and annual maximum amounts for both medical care and transplant services?
  • Does my plan have a pre-existing or waiting period clause? If so, what is the time frame? Can this be waived?
  • Does my plan include pharmacy coverage? If so, will my plan cover my current medications and immunosuppressant medications?
  • Does my plan require any special approvals for evaluation or transplant? How long does the approval process take once submitted to insurance?
  • Does my plan cover my transportation and lodging expenses during my transplant care?
  • Does my current insurance require enrollment in Medicare when eligible?
  • Does my insurance follow Medicare Coordination of Benefits guidelines?
  • How will my current coverage change after enrolling in Medicare? Will my plan become a supplemental or secondary plan?

If your plan is a Medicare supplement, ask questions including:

  • Does my plan follow Medicare guidelines?
  • Does my plan cover Medicare Part A and B deductible and coinsurance?
  • Does my plan have a pre-existing or waiting period? If so, what is the time frame?
  • Does my plan offer an option for Medicare Part D coverage?

Other expenses

Please plan for other expenses that may occur related to your transplant, which may include follow-up medical appointments, long-term medications, caregiver expenses, travel, parking, lodging and other expenses.

Financial Aid

If you need an organ transplant, but don’t have the financial resources to pay for it you should first work with the transplant center social worker to see what is available. There are a number of resources for which you may qualify.  Just click on this link for the complete list and explanation of services.  http://www.transplantliving.org/before-the-transplant/financing-a-transplant/directory/

bob 2Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,200 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.  You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net.  It only takes a few minutes.

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Managing Your Health After an Organ Transplant


A note from Bob Aronson

FacebookWhen you become an organ transplant recipient your life changes.  Not only does the quality of life improve but you have a new awareness of the importance of healthy living.  Transplantable organs are in short supply and those of us who are fortunate enough to get one have a special obligation to take care of it.  It is a gift of life that many never receive and your transplant center will make every effort to help you take care of yourself and your new organ.  Follow their advice, eat healthy, live healthy and by all means, exercise as much as possible.

I have researched and written the great majority of blogs that are published on Bob’s Newheart but not this one.  It was researched and published by the American Society of Transplantation (AST).  I only made some minor editing and formatting changes (the complete post can be found here– http://tinyurl.com/pcteky5).   

This entry is longer than most because it offers critical information that you will need.  It is not only comprehensive in scope,  it is easy to understand and the principles are immediately and easily applicable.  Please take the time to read and thoroughly consider every point.  The information contained here can ensure not only a longer life but one of enhanced quality as well.  And…while this post is meant for transplant recipients, the advice contained here will keep you healthy even if you haven’t had and don’t need an organ transplant.

KEEPING A HEALTHY OUTLOOK ON LIFE

After an organ transplant, there is hope for the future. However, there are a number of health concerns that you will face. For example, there is the chance that your new organ will not always function as well as it should. Transplant recipients also have a higher risk of developing certain conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood lipid levels, diabetes, kidney problems, liver problems, and bone disease. Infection and cancer are also conditions you need to keep in mind. Some conditions can affect any transplant recipient and some conditions are specific to the type of organ transplanted.

CARING FOR YOUR NEW ORGAN

Lab Tests for Measuring Organ Function

It is important to keep all of your scheduled checkups and lab appointments for monitoring organ function. Testing allows your transplantheart of love team to monitor the status of your transplant, detect rejection early, and start effective therapy right away.Common tests for checking organ function are listed below:

Liver function tests — Blood tests are used to monitor liver function (e.g. albumin); damage to liver cells (e.g., alanine transaminase [ALT], Aspartate transaminase [AST]) and some with conditions linked to the path by which bile is produced by the liver (e.g., gamma-glutamyl transferase and alkaline phosphatase)

·    Pulmonary function tests — Tests like spirometry show how well you lungs are working

·    Bronchoscopy — A test that uses an instrument (bronchoscope) to view the airways and diagnose lung disease

·    Chest x-ray

·    Upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopies — These evaluations can detect abnormalities of your esophagus, stomach, and intestine
·    Hemodynamic monitoring — Sonar-type echos may be used to detect high blood pressure in your heart and lungs or a catheter may be placed           in the heart for periods of six to 12 hours

·    Echocardiogram — Sonar-type echos can show abnormalities in the heart and lungs

·    Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) — Asseses the electrical activity within your heart

·    Renal function studies — Your doctor may ask you to collect your urine (usually for 24 hours) to evaluate if your kidneys are working                         properly. Blood tests such as serum creatinine are performed to measure kidney function

·    Biopsy — A biopsy may also be taken to determine if a rejection episode has occurred. This is done by collecting a small piece of tissue from the       organ and examining it under a microscope

OTHER HEALTH ISSUES

Anti-rejection medications increase your risk of developing certain conditions such as infection and cancer. Other side effects of some anti-rejection medications include high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood lipids, kidney disease, heart attack, stroke, and bone disease. Knowing the risks and taking steps now to prevent them is a good way to keep you and your new organ healthy.

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common complication in patients who receive a transplant. High blood pressure can damage the arteries and the heart, increasing the risk of a stroke, a heart attack, kidney problems, or heart failure.For many patients, the cause of hypertension is not known. However, people with kidney disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure before the transplant are at higher risk of high blood pressure after the transplant. Other factors that contribute to high blood pressure after a transplant include a diet high in salt, clogged arteries, high blood lipid levels, smoking, obesity, and some anti-rejection medications such as cyclosporine, tacrolimus, and steroids (prednisone).

Recommended Blood Pressure Levels

People with a blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher are considered hypertensive. While most transplant recipients should have a blood pressure of 130/80 mm Hg, the ideal blood pressure can vary from person to person. The American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines for the target blood pressure in the general population can also be used as guidelines for organ transplant recipients. Normal blood pressure values for children are based on age, sex and height and in general are much lower than in adults.

  • Normal Systolic (top) 120 Diastolic (bottom) 80
  • Prehypertension Systolic 120-139, Diastolic 80-89
  • Stage 1 hypertension Systolic 140-159, Diastolic 90-99
  • Stage 2 hypertension Systolic 160 or higher, Diastolic 100 or higher

High blood pressure usually does not cause any symptoms so it is important to have your blood pressure checked by your transplant team at regular follow-up exams. Your transplant team may also want you to monitor your blood pressure closely while at home.

Reducing High Blood Pressure

  • Making some lifestyle changes can lower your blood pressure and prevent hypertension
  • Sometimes hypertension can be controlled with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, but most patients also require medication.
  • There are a variety of medications for treating and controlling high blood pressure
  • The most commonly prescribed medications include ACE inhibitors, ARBs, calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, and diuretics. Some of these medications may have interactions with certain anti-rejection medications.

HIGH BLOOD LIPIDS

While lipids (cholesterol and related compounds) in your blood are necessary for good health, too high levels of some lipids can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, a leading cause of death among transplant recipients. Most transplant recipients develop high blood lipids. Kidney, heart, and liver transplant patients usually display similar elevations in total cholesterol (TC) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”).Eating the wrong foods, lack of exercise, and being overweight can increase your risk of developing high levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), high levels of triglycerides, and low levels of HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”). Transplant recipients who are obese, smoke cigarettes, or have high blood pressure are more likely to have high cholesterol. Steroids and some of the other anti-rejection medications, such as cyclosporine, sirolimus, and tacrolimus, can also cause high blood lipid levels.

Recommended Blood Lipid Levels

Be sure to ask your doctor what your cholesterol levels should be. In some instances, transplant recipients can follow target levels of blood lipids recommended in the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) guidelines.

Lipid
Low
Optimal
High
LDL Cholesterol

100 mg/dL
160-189 mg/dL
HDL Cholesterol
40 mg/dL

60 mg/dL
Total Cholesterol

240 mg/dL
Reducing High Blood Lipid Levels

not easy but worth itMaking healthy lifestyle changes can lower your chances of developing heart disease. You can help lower your blood lipid levels with a proper diet and regular exercise. A diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats may also help reduce your risk of coronary artery disease. In addition to making healthy changes to your diet, exercising for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a week can also reduce your lipid levels and lower your risk of heart attack or stroke. If you smoke, it is important that you STOP! If adjustment of your anti-rejection drugs, diet, and exercise are not successful in reducing lipid levels, your doctor may want you to take cholesterol-lowering medications. T

Here are several medications that work to lower blood lipids. The most commonly prescribed medications are called statins, which include atorvastatin (Lipitor®), simvastatin (Zocor®), pravastatin (Pravachol®), fluvastatin (Lescol®), rosuvastatin (Crestor®), and lovastatin (Mevacor®). If your doctor prescribes a statin, you will need to be monitored for side effects because the risk of side effects is greater when taken with anti-rejection medications. You will also need blood tests to monitor liver and muscle function. Other types of medication that your transplant team might prescribe to treat high blood lipids include bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic acid, fibric acids, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors.

DIABETES

High blood glucose can cause many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney injury, nerve damage, and eye problems.Post-transplant diabetes (PTDM) is more common in transplant recipients who have a family history of diabetes as well as those who are overweight, are taking steroids, or have hepatitis C. Diabetes after a transplant is also more common among African Americans and some other ethnic groups such as Native Americans. Other risk factors for PTDM include older age of the recipient.

Controlling Blood Sugar Levels

Most transplant recipients with diabetes can follow the American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines. Patients with PTDM should establish a healthy (weight-reducing, if necessary) diet with a structured exercise program. A healthy diet is needed to prevent diabetes or to help control your glucose if diabetes does occur. For all transplant recipients, it is best to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to avoid weight gain and reduce the risk of developing high blood glucose or diabetes. Your transplant coordinator or dietician can help determine your recommended daily calorie intake. Limiting the amount of fats and sugar in your diet can also help to maintain a healthy level of blood glucose.

Treatment Options for Controlling Diabetes

There are several types of medications available for patients with diabetes. Depending on the level of glucose in your blood, treatment with oral hypoglycemic drugs and/or insulin may be indicated. For many transplant recipients, insulin injections or an insulin pump is an option for controlling blood sugar. Or, you may be given an oral medication to control blood glucose levels. Your transplant team will determine which medication is right for you.

KIDNEY DISEASE

Kidney function is often decreased in transplant recipients. This may be caused by a pre-existing condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or injury to the kidney before a transplant. Or it may be caused by medications used to prevent rejection after a transplant.The best way to help prevent kidney disease is to keep your blood pressure and blood glucose under control and to maintain a healthy weight. In addition, regular checkups with blood and urine tests will give your doctor important information for detecting early changes in kidney function and allowing appropriate steps to be taken.

BLOOD VESSELS DISEASE

Transplant recipients have a higher risk of developing blood vessel disease. Some anti-rejection medications increase the risk of high lipid levels, which can clog arteries and restrict the flow of blood to the heart and brain. Deposits — called atherosclerotic plaque — can completely or partially block blood vessels resulting in a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or acute coronary syndromes.Likewise, a stroke can occur if an artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked. Partial blockage may temporarily reduce the blood supply to the brain. A complete loss of blood supply to the brain results in a stroke.

BONE DISEASE

Bone disease is a problem for many organ transplant recipients. Organ failure before your transplant may cause bones to become thin and brittle (osteoporosis). Other causes of osteoporosis include use of some anti-rejection drugs (corticosteroids), overactive parathyroid gland, cigarette smoking, and not enough calcium in your diet.

Preventing Bone Disease

There are some basic things you can do to help prevent or treat bone disease.

Exercise regularly, including weight lifting or strength training — be sure to discuss weight limits with your transplant team beforebones beginning an exercise program
Eat foods that are high in calcium, including low-fat yogurt, cheese, and milk
Choose foods and juices with calcium added
Get plenty of dietary protein (unless restricted by your doctor)
Take calcium supplements if directed by your doctor
Take vitamin D only as directed by your doctor
Stop smoking
Your doctor or transplant dietician will tell you if you need to take calcium or vitamin D supplements. Your doctor may also want you to take medications that prevent bone thinning, including bisphosphonates such as alendronate (Fosamax®), etidronate (Didrocal®), and risedronate (Actonel®) or calcitonin.

STAYING FIT

Diet – Things are shaping up

The recommended diet for transplant patients consists of 30% fats, 50% carbohydrates and 20% protein.

Your transplant dietician will give you specific instructions about your recommended daily allowance of specific nutrients. Some tips for following a healthy diet include:

Eat high-fiber foods such as raw fruits and vegetables
Increase your calcium intake by eating low-fat dairy products and green leafy vegetables or by taking calcium supplements (if directed by your doctor)
Eat less salt, processed foods, and snacks
Use herbs and spices to add flavor instead of salt
Drink plenty of water (unless you are told to limit fluids)
Eat as little fat and oil as possible
Eat high-protein foods such as lean meat, chicken (without the skin), fish, eggs, nuts (unsalted), and beans
Select healthier condiments such as mustard, low-fat mayonnaise, and low-fat salad dressing
Instead of frying, try baking, broiling, grilling, boiling, or steaming foods
Instead of using oil to cook, use nonstick, fat-free spray
Exercise

Exercise is a great way to help increase your energy and strength after a transplant. A regular exercise routine will also help you maintain your ideal weight, prevent high blood pressure and high lipid levels, and keep your bones strong. It also helps relieve stress and overcome feelings of depression.Soon after your transplant, you’ll want to start slow with a low-impact activity such as walking. With time, you can increase your workout with more demanding activities such as bicycling, jogging, swimming, or whatever exercise you enjoy. Training with dumbbells, cuff weights, or weights will increase strength and help prevent bone loss, but check with your transplant team first to determine how much weight is safe for you to lift. Stretching exercises are also important for muscle tone and flexibility. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning or changing your exercise routine.

STOP Smoking

smokingSmoking also contributes to already high risk of cardiovascular, particularly in patients with diabetes and may be detrimental to kidney function. Transplant recipients who smoke should to STOP smoking as soon as possible.

Dental Care

Routine dental care is important both before and following transplantation as oral infections can cause significant medical problems and even death. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), pre-treatment with antibiotics is not needed for routine dental care unless the patient has an underlying heart condition that increases the risk of developing a heart infection. These include patients with heart transplants with graft valvulopathy (or a previous history of endocarditis, prosthetic valves, and certain forms of congenital heart diseases.)Gingival overgrowth (hypertrophy) is a dental issue that can arise in transplant patients especially those using cyclosporine. This occurrence of gingival overgrowth can be reduced by practicing good oral hygiene.

ROUTINE FOLLOW-UP EXAMS

All people should have regular exams to help prevent illness.

As we get older, there are some specific tests that should be done on a regular basis

Self-Monitoring

In addition to the tests that your transplant team will perform at regular follow-up visits, you will need to do some self-testing at home. Here are some things you will need to monitor:

Weight – Weigh yourself at the same time each day, preferably in the morning. If you gain 2 pounds in a day or more than 5 pounds total, call your transplant team.
Temperature – You should take your temperature daily, especially when you feel like you have a fever. Call your transplant team if your temperature is too high.
Blood pressure – Check your blood pressure as often as your transplant team recommends.
Pulse – You should check your pulse daily. A normal heart rate when not exercising should be 60 to 100 beats per minute. (If you have had a heart transplant, your resting heart rate may be as high as 110 to 120 beats per minute.)
Blood sugar – If you have high blood sugar or diabetes, you will need to monitor your blood sugar using a glucometer.
Do not take any pain medication (for example, Tylenol®, Motrin®, or Advil®), cold remedy, antacid, herbal medication, or any over-the-counter medication unless your transplant team tells you to.

PREGNANCY: BENEFITS AND RISKS

For female transplant recipients of child-bearing age, fertility is usually restored immediately after a transplant.

There have been thousands of births among women with transplanted organs.

Although pregnancy is now an expected part of the benefits afforded to women by organ transplantation, there are also a number of considerations. Getting pregnant is generally not recommended within the first year after a transplant because the doses of anti-rejection medications are highest; there is a greater risk of rejection; and many other medications are prescribed that are toxic to the developing fetus. Female transplant recipients of child-bearing age should continue using birth control until the doctor says that it is okay to get pregnant. Male transplant recipients may also be concerned about their ability to have children. Men may have fertility problems related to some transplant medications, but many men have been able to father healthy children after a transplant. If you are interested in, or thinking about, becoming pregnant you must talk to your transplant team first. Pregnancy should be planned when organ function and anti-rejection therapy are stable and there are no signs of rejection, high blood pressure, or infection.

High Risk Pregnancy

According to National Transplantation Pregnancy Registry (NTPR) over 70% of births to female transplant recipients are live births and most have favorable outcomes for child and mother. Although this success is encouraging, these pregnancies are still considered high risk. There are risks of complications during pregnancy for the transplant recipient as well as risk of infection and exposure to anti-rejection drugs for the fetus.For example, there is a greater risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy in the woman who has received a transplant. The risk of infection is higher for all transplant recipients, and urinary tract infections are the most common infections during pregnancy.

Other infections that may cause concern during pregnancy include herpes, hepatitis, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus. Other risks include preeclampsia and preterm delivery. The fetus is also at risk for infections such as cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus related to the suppression of the mother’s immune system by anti-rejection drugs. A common question is whether the baby born to a woman with a transplanted organ will be normal. We know that some babies are born premature to mothers with transplants and that they have low birth weights. It is not known whether there are long-term effects on the baby’s development. You should inform your baby’s pediatrician that your baby was exposed to anti-rejection drugs in the womb.

pregnancyThere is a higher risk of birth defects with some anti-rejection drugs especially mycophenolate mofetil and azathioprine. The levels of anti-rejection drugs in the mother’s blood must be monitored closely. Monitoring of blood levels is particularly important in the third trimester, when fetal metabolism may increase the clearance of anti-rejection drugs from the blood. Ask your transplant team whether or not you should breast-feed. It is not known whether breast-feeding while on certain anti-rejection medications can harm the baby.

A major concern for transplant recipients is whether pregnancy will lead to organ rejection or decreased function of the transplanted organ. In general, pregnancy does not affect organ function or patient survival as long your organ is working very well. But, it is very important to discuss with your transplant team whether or not a pregnancy will be too risky. Because pregnancy is considered high risk for transplant recipients, your transplant team may recommend and work with an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 4,000 member Organ TransplantBob informal 3 Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org.  And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one persBon to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Save Lives Now — Extend Kidney Anti-Rejection Drug Coverage


(At the end of this blog you will find a sample letter and links to your congressional and senate representatives.)

 

If someone told you that your government was willing to spend about $650,000 to save from $17,000 to $30,000 a year would you be surprised? 

Well I’m the someone, and I’m telling you that what I have described is absolutely true.  When your congress passed the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) law in 1972 then expanded Medicare to cover kidney transplants they bowed to pressure from the dialysis industry and limited anti-rejection medicine coverage to 36 months post-kidney transplant which resulted in the incredible expense I just described.

We can change that by putting some pressure on our elected officials to support a bill that ends this insanity.  I’ll give details in a bit, but first some medical information.

The human immune system is a marvelous mechanism that immediately attacks any foreign body it detects with its full force and fury.

A transplanted organ is a foreign object so the immune system makes every attempt to destroy it, not knowing that destroying the organ will kill the human. 

Enter anti-rejection drugs.  These powerful, expensive drugs suppress the immune system so that a transplanted organ can not only survive but will extend the life of the recipient.  The downside is that transplant patients are more susceptible to diseases because of their suppressed immune system.  Without anti-rejection drugs, though, the immune system will win and the person will die.

The U.S. Congress knew that when they expanded Medicare coverage for kidney transplants.  The law saved a lot of lives but it contains one very strange element.  It only allows Medicare to pay for anti-rejection drugs for 36 months.  After that the recipient is on the hook for from $17,000 to around $30,000 a year these very special drugs. Many patients have found that at the end of the 36 month period they simply couldn’t afford the expense and either cut back on the medication or quit taking it and went into rejection

Strangely, if the patient seeks medical help to stop the rejection, Medicare will leap back into action to rescue the patient that congressionally mandated policies put at risk and they will pay for hospitalization to stabilize the person and dialysis to keep them alive until they can get another Medicare paid transplant.  So let’s do some math, ignoring the cost of the initial transplant and the anti-rejection drugs (about $300,000).

Stabilize patient in hospital (estimate)………………….$50,000

Dialysis during 3-5 year wait for kidney…$216,000 to $360,000

Second transplant ………………………………………..$262,000

One patient gets two transplants meaning it’s entirely possible that another patient won’t get one.  Cost…incalculable.

Total: About $600,000 spent to save the $17,000 to $30,000 cost of the initial anti-rejection drugs.

The last time this issue came before congress was in 2009 and  opposition to expanding anti-rejection coverage came from a group calling itself the  Kidney Care Partners coalition which said “the kidney care community strongly objects” to the proposed changes. Oddly one of the organizations opposing this move was The National Kidney Foundation which was joined by dialysis providers, drug companies and nephrologists.

To pay for the expanded coverage, House Democrats had proposed setting a flat fee for dialysis treatments and related medications that some providers say would not cover costs. The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the package would save the government $100 million over the next 10 years.

Dialysis providers argue that the bundled-payment mechanism may force some clinics to close. “We believe that the amendment as proposed, while helping one group of patients, would potentially put another very vulnerable group of patients at risk,” said the letter from Kidney Care Partners, which was signed by its chairman, Kent J. Thiry, the chief executive of DaVita, a large commercial dialysis provider.

The group instead proposed to pay for expanded drug coverage by delaying when Medicare would start covering kidney patients who also have private insurance.

The National Kidney Foundation, the largest advocacy group for renal patients, says it signed on to the letter because it shares the group’s concerns about bundling of payments. But Ellie Schlam, the foundation’s spokeswoman, said its support for extending coverage for anti-rejection drugs would ultimately outweigh its opposition to

The American Society of Transplantation supports the provision.  Currently there are over 100,000 Americans on the Kidney transplant waiting list a

What You Can Do

Recently Transplant living, which is a service of UNOS http://www.transplantliving.org/  recently published this information.

Support Anti-Rejection Drug Coverage Bill

The Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act, currently in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, will extend Medicare coverage of anti-rejection drugs for the rest of the patient’s life. This will help patients to keep their kidney transplants, shorten the transplant waiting list, and lower Medicare costs.

Call for action

Please consider contacting your Senators and House Member. To determine your Senators and House Member, go to http://www.congress.org and input your zip code under Get Involved.

Sample language

Dear Representative :

I am contacting you to request that you cosponsor important legislation for chronic kidney disease patients. H.R. 2969, the “Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2011,” was introduced by Representatives Burgess and Kind to help kidney transplant recipients obtain the life-saving immunosuppressive medications that are necessary to maintain the viability of their new kidney.

Individuals with chronic kidney failure require kidney dialysis or a transplant to survive, and are eligible for Medicare regardless of age or other disability. There is no time limit on Medicare coverage for dialysis patients. However, transplant recipients who are not aged or disabled retain Medicare eligibility only for 36 months following their transplant. After their Medicare ends, they often face the challenge of obtaining group health insurance or other coverage, greatly increasing the risk of organ rejection if they cannot afford their required medications. If the transplanted kidney fails, they return to dialysis or receive another transplant, both of which are more costly (Medicare spends more than $77,000 annually on a dialysis patient and about $19,100 per year for a kidney transplant recipient, after the year of the transplant).

H.R. 2969 would extend Medicare Part B eligibility, and only for immunosuppressive medications. Coverage for any other health needs would end 36 months after the transplant, as under current law. The legislation also requires group health plans to maintain coverage of immunosuppressive drugs if they presently include such a benefit in their coverage. Lifetime immunosuppressive coverage will improve long term transplant outcomes, enable more kidney patients who lack adequate insurance to consider transplantation, and reduce the number of kidney patients who require another transplant. Nobody should lose a transplant because they are not able to pay for the drugs to maintain it. On behalf of thousands of transplant recipients, I respectfully request your support of this legislation.

Sincerely,

 

In order to help you write to your representative in congress Bob’s Newheart has provided the following resource. 

To find your U.S. Senator’s address click on this link http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

To find your congressional representative click on this link.

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

 Espanol

Bob Aronson Newheart de Bob es un receptor de trasplante cardiaco 2007, el fundador de Facebook, casi 2.500 Iniciativa miembro de Trasplante de Órganos y el autor de la mayoría de los blogs de donación / trasplante.

Puede comentar en el espacio proporcionado o por correo electrónico sus pensamientos a mí en bob@baronson.org. Y – por favor, difundir la palabra acerca de la necesidad inmediata de más donantes de órganos. No hay nada que puedas hacer lo que es de mayor importancia. Si usted convence a una persona de ser donante de órganos y tejidos puede salvar o afectar positivamente a más de 60 vidas. Algunas de esas vidas pueden ser personas que conoces y amas.

Por favor vea nuestro video “Gracias desde el fondo de mi corazón Donante” en http://www.organti.org Este video fue producido para promover la donación de órganos por lo que es libre y no se necesita permiso para su uso.

Si quieres correr la voz acerca de la donación de órganos personalmente, tenemos otra presentación de PowerPoint para su uso libre y sin permiso. Sólo tienes que ir a http://www.organti.org y haga clic en “Life Pass It On” en el lado izquierdo de la pantalla y luego sólo tienes que seguir las instrucciones. Esto no es un espectáculo independiente, sino que necesita un presentador pero es profesionalmente producida y sonido hechos. Si usted decide usar el programa le enviaré una copia gratuita de mi libro electrónico, “Cómo obtener un pie” O “que le ayudará con habilidades de presentación. Sólo tiene que escribir a bob@baronson.org y por lo general usted recibirá una copia del mismo día.

Además … hay más información sobre este sitio de blogs sobre otros donación / trasplante temas. Además nos encantaría que te unas a nuestro grupo de Facebook, la Iniciativa de Trasplante de Órganos Cuantos más miembros que obtenemos mayor será nuestra influencia con los tomadores de decisiones.

                               

Are Elected Officials in Bed with the Dialysis Industry?


People who are diagnosed as needing organ transplants are end-stage patients.  That means medical science has run out of alternatives to extend life and a transplant is the last and most beneficial approach.  Transplants are not cures but they can offer a considerable extension of life provided the patient adheres to the program and has on-going, expert medical care.

At least twice very day a transplant recipient must take the daily dose of anti-rejection drugs.  They are effective but expensive.  They can run as high as $1,500 a month and if you quit taking them you can and likely will die.  If you are of retirement age or disabled your Kidney transplant is covered by Medicare and most of the cost of the drugs as well.  If you are under 65 and not disabled and diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) your kidney transplant will still be covered by Medicare but your anti-rejection drugs will only be covered for 36 months and then you are on your own (detailed explanation below).

If after 36 months you go into rejection because you can’t afford the meds, Medicare will pay for dialysis and even pay for another transplant but not for the drugs which would prevent needing either.  The drugs would be a fraction of the cost of the two alternatives that are covered.  At best that is just plain dumb!

Someone said a long time ago that, “If you like either sausage or the law, you should watch neither being made.”  Well, that certainly applies to this issue.  Another of my favorite expressions which also applies here is, “No one’s life, liberty or property are safe when the legislature is in session.”  These two expressions apply perfectly to the anti-rejection medicine silliness.

The entire situation and what to do about it is explained below.

The Current State Of Access to Post transplant Care

By

Christine S. Rizk, JD, and Sanjiv N. Singh, MD, JD

http://virtualmentor.ama-assn.org/2012/03/pfor3-1203.html

Virtual Mentor. March 2012, Volume 14, Number 3: 250-255. American Medical Association

This article provides historical perspective on the evolution of coverage for kidney transplant patients and attempts to identify what initiatives would most effectively and efficiently improve their survival.

As of January 24, 2012, in the United States, there were 112,767 waitlist candidates on the various national transplant registries [2]. Of those candidates, 90,563 were waiting for kidneys, but in 2011 only 13,430 kidney transplants were performed [3]. The need for kidneys far outweighs the availability of suitable donor organs, and some postulate that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) may worsen the shortage by eliminating barriers to insurance coverage based on preexisting conditions, lifetime coverage caps, and required periods of pretransplant dialysis [4].

Even more critical from a clinical, economic, and moral perspective is the fact that the additional end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients now expected to receive transplants by 2014 will be most vulnerable in the posttransplant phase of care. Coverage for pre transplant dialysis and maintenance drugs for ESRD, but not post transplant care, receives strong support in Washington from large dialysis and pharmaceutical companies, which derive significant profits from dialysis, ESRD drugs, and dialysis-related services [5]. For ESRD patients, dialysis is covered by Medicare for life [6].

For posttransplant care, however, Medicare coverage is limited, providing only 80 percent of the cost of immunosuppressive medications for 36 months after transplantation (for those whose Medicare entitlement is based on ESRD) and no coverage thereafter. Despite the fact that effective and long-term immunosuppression is essential for survival of transplant patients [7], the vast majority are left to fund 20 percent of the cost for the first 3 years of immunosuppressive drugs ($13,000 to $15,000 total cost per year per patient) [8], and, for patients under 65 who are not disabled, all of the cost of immunosuppressive drugs thereafter [9].

Not surprisingly, this system leads to noncompliance. Many patients cope with the financial burden by “spreading out” their anti-rejection drugs, taking them less often or not at all [10, 11]. A recent meta-analysis reports that “about 22.6 of 100 adult transplant patients per year fail to take anti-rejection drugs” [12]. If allograft failure occurs due to nonadherence or a patient is considered unable to pay for posttransplant costs, with few exceptions, she is typically not relisted [13, 14]. According to a study focusing on medication nonadherence among transplant patients, nonadherence was more prevalent among kidney recipients than among recipients of other organs and more prevalent in the United States than in Europe [12].

Legislative History

Congress has continually struggled with the tension between supporting low-income patients and controlling the costs of government-funded health care. The legislative history of renal-transplant drug coverage highlights this struggle.

The Social Security Act Amendments of 1965, which created Medicare and Medicaid, initiated medical insurance for seniors, families with dependent children, the blind, and the disabled [15]. At the SSA’s inception, Medicare provided for prescription drugs that were administered in the physician’s office but did not provide coverage for outpatient prescription drugs [14].

In 1972, on the eve of President Richard Nixon’s reelection, after much debate and political pressure to expand health care insurance, amendments were passed that provided increased coverage in specific areas. They specifically designated chronic kidney disease patients “disabled” for the purpose of receiving Medicare coverage but only after at least 3 months of dialysis and only for 12 months after transplantation [16].

Undoubtedly, these amendments were the original and now obviously outdated roots of the notion that posttransplant care benefits should be time-limited. At the time, such a notion was defensible. Dialysis was then a cost-effective and, more importantly, still superior way to extend lives, while kidney transplantation was a risky medical procedure on the frontier of available therapies. In the decades that would follow, however, renal transplantation outpaced dialysis in mortality reduction and overall clinical outcomes [17]. Meanwhile, the number of eligible patients who used dialysis far exceeded expectations, and the ESRD entitlement became quite costly [14].

In the last 3 decades, the dialysis entitlement has remained largely intact while posttransplant entitlements have waxed and waned in small stutters.

  • As a response to the increased costs of dialysis, Congress passed an amendment in 1978 extending Medicare posttransplant coverage from 1 year to 3 years; however, this amendment did not cover the cost of outpatient immunosuppressive medications [14].
  • In 1984, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 to ban the sale of organs [18]; extended coverage for immunosuppressive drugs was considered but ultimately left out of the bill, mostly due to funding concerns and political bargaining [14].
  • Posttransplant drug coverage gained some traction in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 which included Medicare coverage of 80 percent of a kidney transplant recipient’s immunosuppressive drug costs (including outpatient immunosuppressive prescription drugs) for 1 year after transplant [14, 19]. This was eventually extended, in 1997, to cover 36 months of immunosuppressive drug costs [9].
  • In 2000, Congress extended Medicare coverage of immunosuppressive drug costs to the life of the patient, but only for those who are disabled or over 65. This often leaves those patients most at risk for nonadherence and noncompliance—i.e., younger kidney recipients under 65—uninsured after 3 years [14].

Despite decades of legislative history and clinical data revealing the obvious gaps in posttransplant care entitlements, extending the duration of coverage for immunosuppressive-drug costs was not included in the ACA. In a provocative piece published in 2010 in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Cohen and colleagues assert that “in response to pressure from the corporate dialysis community and their kidney coalition, several members of Congress acted to prevent the patient immunosuppressive provision from being included in the final health care reform package. Some of these opposing voices on Capitol Hill have been generously supported by the large dialysis providers for years” [5].

It is theoretically possible that the ACA’s insurance exchanges will include lifetime coverage for immunosuppressive drugs. These exchanges will not be implemented until 2014, however. Moreover, it is not clear exactly what type of coverage will be offered and whether such lifetime coverage will be offered in the lower-priced options, where it is most needed [9].

Cost Savings for the Federal Government

Continuing the current limitations on coverage of posttransplant medications is actually costing the health care system more money in the long term. Studies have shown that it is less costly to continue covering the cost of immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplant patients after 36 months than it is to cover the costs of resuming dialysis for the same population. For example, a University of Maryland study concluded that it was more cost-effective to continue covering immunosuppressive drugs than it was to pay for dialysis, finding that “the breakeven point was 2.7 years for all of the cases [it] analyzed and for 30 percent of all patients who did not need to be readmitted to the hospital during the year after their transplant, the breakeven point was only 1.7 years” [10]. A study conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) also concluded that lifetime coverage of immunosuppressive drugs would lead to cost savings because it would reduce nonadherence and thereby improve kidney allograft survival, reducing long-term reliance on dialysis [12].

Current Legislation

The Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplants Patients Act of 2011, currently pending in committee in both the House and the Senate, would extend coverage of immunosuppressive drugs for kidney transplant patients for the lifetime of the kidney [20, 21]. The bill is bicameral, bipartisan, and supported by the transplant community [22]. As noted by Cohen et al, however, similar attempts have failed in the past, most recently with the proposed Durbin amendment to the ACA [5]. Similar attempts by Congress in 2003 and 2007 to extend lifetime immunosuppressive coverage also failed in the wake of funding concerns and political jockeying [14].

Conclusion

Extending immunosuppressive drug coverage for the lifetime of kidney patients is a cost-effective way for the federal government to increase the value of health care by improving clinical outcomes for those with ESRD while avoiding the costs of resuming dialysis and allograft failure. Low-income kidney transplant patients currently suffer heavy financial burdens and are denied access to transplant relisting because of their inability to pay for critical drugs. There is a clinical, economic, and moral imperative to, at long last, bridge this coverage gap—a gap that lies at the core of effective transplant care and detracts from the movement for comprehensive coverage begun by the Affordable Care Act.

Transplant Living http://tinyurl.com/brwj3je  suggests you contact your Senators and Congressional Representatives to urge their support of the measure that would extend anti-rejection medication coverage from 36 months to lifetime.

Sample language

Dear Representative :

I am contacting you to request that you cosponsor important legislation for chronic kidney disease patients. H.R. 2969, the “Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Patients Act of 2011,” was introduced by Representatives Burgess and Kind to help kidney transplant recipients obtain the life-saving immunosuppressive medications that are necessary to maintain the viability of their new kidney.

Individuals with chronic kidney failure require kidney dialysis or a transplant to survive, and are eligible for Medicare regardless of age or other disability. There is no time limit on Medicare coverage for dialysis patients. However, transplant recipients who are not aged or disabled retain Medicare eligibility only for 36 months following their transplant. After their Medicare ends, they often face the challenge of obtaining group health insurance or other coverage, greatly increasing the risk of organ rejection if they cannot afford their required medications. If the transplanted kidney fails, they return to dialysis or receive another transplant, both of which are more costly (Medicare spends more than $77,000 annually on a dialysis patient and about $19,100 per year for a kidney transplant recipient, after the year of the transplant).

H.R. 2969 would extend Medicare Part B eligibility, and only for immunosuppressive medications. Coverage for any other health needs would end 36 months after the transplant, as under current law. The legislation also requires group health plans to maintain coverage of immunosuppressive drugs if they presently include such a benefit in their coverage. Lifetime immunosuppressive coverage will improve long term transplant outcomes, enable more kidney patients who lack adequate insurance to consider transplantation, and reduce the number of kidney patients who require another transplant. Nobody should lose a transplant because they are not able to pay for the drugs to maintain it. On behalf of thousands of transplant recipients, I respectfully request your support of this legislation.

Sincerely,

 

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 2,500 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on http://www.organti.org This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. Just go to http://www.organti.org and click on “Life Pass It On” on the left side of the screen and then just follow the directions. This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound. If you decide to use the show I will send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to bob@baronson.org and usually you will get a copy the same day.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

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