For individuals living with chronic kidney disease or kidney failure in Bibb County and Central Georgia, advanced care is now closer to home—approximately 90 miles closer to home—thanks to a collaboration between the Mercer University School of Medicine and the Piedmont Transplant Institute of Atlanta to open an organ transplant satellite clinic in Macon. The joint effort makes pre- and post-kidney transplant services more accessible to patients in Bibb County and surrounding communities. The satellite clinic opened in April 2013 and currently operates out of the Mercer Medicine Internal Medicine Clinic at 707 Pine Street in downtown Macon.
Statistics from the U.S. Renal Data System reveal more than 20 million adults in the United States age 20 or older—or roughly one in 10—live with some form of chronic kidney disease, while another 40,000 currently depend on dialysis to treat kidney failure. Chronic kidney disease is more prevalent among women than men, as well as those individuals with diabetes and/or hypertension. With more than 80,000 people on the national waiting list for a kidney transplant, 35 percent are African-American and 19 percent are Hispanic.
Sakinnah King of Macon is one of the 40,000 currently living on dialysis. A diabetic since she was 13 years old, Sakinnah was diagnosed with hypertension at the age of 25—a condition that is prevalent in her family. After a trip to the Emergency Room two years ago, she was diagnosed with kidney failure at age 34 and began dialysis treatments. Today, in need of a kidney transplant, Sakinnah spends nearly 3.5 hours three days a week attached to a dialysis machine at a treatment clinic in Macon.
For current dialysis patients like Sakinnah, as well as those nearing dialysis in the Central Georgia community, the accessibility of an organ transplant satellite clinic in Macon could literally be the difference between life and death, explains Ajay Srivastava, MD, assistant professor and chief of the nephrology division for the Mercer School of Medicine and practicing nephrologist with Mercer Medicine—the multi-specialty physician practice and subsidiary of the Mercer School of Medicine and the Mercer Health Sciences Center.
"Piedmont Transplant Institute has the best kidney transplant survival rates in the state of Georgia and among the highest in the country—for both the transplanted organ and the patient," says Dr. Srivastava. "Unfortunately, due to financial constraints and transportation issues, many local dialysis patients simply can't make the drive to Atlanta periodically for evaluation. The availability of a Piedmont satellite clinic in Macon will afford patients the option of having their pre- and post-transplant evaluations performed locally."
Despite advances in kidney transplantation outcomes, the number of actual transplants performed remains low due to the limited availability of viable kidney donors. Nationally, the number of deceased donor kidneys is declining, but the need for kidney transplants continues to rise. With an average wait time of four to five years for a deceased donor kidney, approximately 200 of the more then 3,200 Georgia patients on the transplant waiting list die each year before receiving a kidney transplant.
According to Mark Johnson, MD, transplant surgeon and program director of the Piedmont Transplant Institute in Atlanta, providing better access to transplant centers through satellite clinics such as the one in Macon, means more patients can be evaluated for transplantation.
"Our partnership with Mercer University allows us to offer better access to transplant care in Central Georgia," he adds. "Transplantation isn't just a surgical procedure. Our patients need to be evaluated by a specialist prior to receiving a transplant. After their surgery, they require long-term follow-up care due to the risk of organ rejection."
For Sakinnah, the opening of the Piedmont organ transplant satellite clinic is exciting new to hear. She is currently being evaluated by physicians at the Piedmont Transplant Institute with the hopes of receiving a donor kidney soon.
"The opening of the [satellite] clinic is some of the best news I've heard because it was going to be hard to find someone to drive me to Atlanta for my appointments after my transplant," she says.
Since 2007, Piedmont Transplant Institute has been offering satellite clinics across Georgia to provide better access to care for transplant patients. These satellite clinics—conveniently located in Albany, Dalton, Savannah and now Macon—provide pre- and post-transplant services for kidney, liver and pancreatic transplant patients with direct access to physicians and transplant teams at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. Each satellite clinic offers consultations by Piedmont Transplant Institute physicians who provide the same level of quality attention and care given to patients at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. Consultations include thorough assessments and diagnoses of patients' current conditions and recommendations for treatment.
But it's not just patients in the community who will benefit from the healthcare partnership. According to Dr. Srivastava, the collaboration with Piedmont will also create landmark training fellowships in Infectious Disease and Nephrology for future medical residents studying at the School of Medicine.
"These new fellowships will expand subspecialty training for our medical students and, ultimately, elevate the caliber of physicians the School of Medicine graduates into Georgia's communities."
Since it's founding in 1982 on the Macon campus of Mercer University, the Mercer University School of Medicine has granted Doctor of Medicine degrees to more than 1,000 graduates—nearly 50 percent of whom chose primary care as their specialty, with 60 percent of those currently practicing in the state of Georgia. Of those who practice in state, approximately 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas in Georgia.
"In terms of health in Macon and throughout Central Georgia, we want to empower individuals by affording them access to the best preventative medicine, treatments and healing options," explains Dr. Srivastava. "It is not uncommon for patients today to drive an hour or longer to receive specialized care provided by myself and other Mercer Medicine physicians. That's why it's imperative that we—as practicing physicians and teachers of medicine—make advanced and innovative health care accessible to those in need through collaborations such as this with Piedmont."
To Sakinnah and her fellow dialysis patients, it's the hope of living a normal, healthy life again.
"Every dialysis patient that hears about the new satellite transplant clinic gets excited because it's an opportunity for us to get back the health we lost," she explains. "It will make life a lot easier on everyone."