UAMS Certified to Perform State’s First Liver Transplant

By todd

LITTLE ROCK – The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has received all necessary approvals to begin the state’s first liver transplant program and will soon perform the state’s first liver transplant.


The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit, scientific and education organization that administers the nation’s organ procurement and transplantation network, certified the UAMS Liver Transplant Program directed by Youmin Wu, M.D., who is also a professor of surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine.


The transplant team recently was completed when Wael Refai, M.D., a transplant hepatologist, joined the UAMS College of Medicine faculty as an assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology.  


UNOS certification is an important step closer to UAMS’ goal of bringing a new lifesaving service to Arkansas and is a credit to the hard work of Dr. Wu and our transplant team,” said Michael Edwards, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine. “We know there are Arkansans on waiting lists to receive a liver transplant and others who will need this complex surgery in the future, so we want to ensure residents will no longer need to travel out of state for this procedure.”


An estimated 100 Arkansans are on liver transplant waiting lists out of state.


The UAMS liver transplant team will evaluate transplant candidates based on the severity of their condition. Those patients are placed on a UNOS national list, ranked by severity, so that when a liver becomes available the UAMS patients will be eligible. Initially, Edwards said, UAMS expects to perform 20-30 liver transplants a year, with a potential of 50-60 transplants a year, depending on need.


Wu joined the UAMS faculty in 2004 to create the liver transplant program as he has done in Iowa and his native China. Wu leads a transplant team of 25 that includes the transplant physicians and representatives of numerous disciplines, including anesthesiology, cardiology, gastroenterology, pathology, pharmacy, psychiatry and radiology.


“We have the facilities, and now a talented team in place, to initiate an excellent transplant program,” said Wu, who has performed about 800 transplants and holds several world records in liver transplants, such as performing a transplant with the oldest donor and the longest survival; the oldest recipient and longest survival; and most recently he performed a liver transplant on the youngest recipient – a 19-day old baby.


The newest team member, Refai, is a fellowship-trained hepatologist who previously served as staff physician in hepatology/transplant critical care in the Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute at Baptist INTEGRIS Medical Center in Oklahoma City. He received his medical degree from Aleppo University in his native Syria and completed a residency at the Cleveland Clinic.


UNOS, established by Congress, must approve any clinical transplant program. To receive UNOS certification, the program must demonstrate how it will incorporate the new program into its existing services, identify the transplant team and document that it is well qualified with clear evidence of excellence and has support from an organ procurement organization.


The Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency (ARORA), a Little Rock-based organ procurement agency, will serve the UAMS liver transplant program. It is part of UNOS and is certified by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has more than 2,200 students and 660 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.1 billion a year.


UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.