EDINBURG, RGV – The goal of establishing a full-fledged transplant center at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance dates back more than two decades.

Early talks between hospital leaders and transplant surgeons sought to lay the groundwork for support services for patients.

Dr. Jose Almeda
Dr. Jose Almeda

At that time, Dr. Carlos Cardenas along with esteemed transplant surgeons Drs. Glen Halff, Francisco Cigarroa and Ken Washburn from UT Health Science Center in San Antonio opted to create clinical services for transplant patients, but many still had to travel to receive surgery.

“We talked about running a clinic down here, and we have been doing that all this time. Of course, we weren’t doing transplants here. We were still having to have transplants happen in San Antonio in terms of liver cases,” Cardenas said.

“Now, kidney transplants are something that is so important for our community because of the number of people we have on hemodialysis. The ability to be able to perform their transplants here at home I think certainly makes a huge difference.”

DHR passed a critical milestone recently when it celebrated the start of its new Transplant Institute, which will enable transplant procedures for kidney patients without the need for travel to larger cities in Texas.

Facilities for liver and even heart transplants are also planned in the near future, according to DHR leaders.

“When there was a void in the community, we had the opportunity to go ahead and step up. It was part of our grand plan and vision from the very beginning,” Cardenas said. “We have done things incrementally. The health system continues to grow, and our drive is to make a difference in our community.

“A metropolitan area of our size is as deserving as any other areas in the country to have these types of facilities and services available. I think this just an example of our commitment to making that happen,” Cardenas said.

DHR held a press conference announcing the opening of its Renaissance Transplant Institute on Friday morning. Speakers at the event included DHR CEO Israel Rocha and Cardenas as well as leaders of the new transplant facility; Dr. Mourad Alsabbagh, transplant medical director, and Dr. Jose Almeda, transplant director.

The event was also comprised of patient testimonials and sobering statistics from Carie Kadric, Texas Organ Sharing Alliance’s (TOSA) Director of Clinical Services and Quality.

Over 120,000 people in the United States are on the organ transplant waiting list, and many of those will not receive the organs they need to live. More than 8,000 people die each year, about 22 people a day, because the organs they need are not donated in time, according to TOSA.

“It’s very important, especially down here in the Valley. There is a lot of diabetes and liver diseases, and for a lot of that care people have to go to San Antonio or even Houston,” Kadric told the Rio Grande Guardian after the event had finished. “It’s important that the transplant center is growing and thriving, and that the community believes in donation.

“It’s very difficult to be traveling back and forth to another city to get the care that you need,” Kadric said. “The skills and the hospitals and the great physicians, nurses and transplant teams that are here, they are here for the people who need those transplants.”

DHR’s Transplant Institute will operate under the direction of Drs. Alsabbagh and Almeda, and will be the only facility in the Rio Grande Valley offering pre and post-kidney transplant support services. The transplant facility at McAllen Medical Center closed its doors in 2015.

The Institute currently operates in a 5,000 square foot clinical space located behind the hospital’s emergency room, but plans are currently in place to hold a groundbreaking soon on the system’s 25,000 square foot transplant facility to be located on Dove Avenue, according to Dr. Almeda.

“As you know, DHR is expanding every day, so we are just about at the groundbreaking of a new building which we will be located in,” Almeda said. “It will be located actually right across the street from here, and the site has already been located. We have the plans already to be located on the second floor.”

“Today we are talking about kidney transplants. That’s what we are here to promote, but we’re just getting started,” he said. “Once the kidneys are functioning well and we have our program in about two or three years, the hospital is really excited to get into treating livers. That will be the next big hurdle because there is even more care involved.”