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Teleconference puts kidney patients in touch with Indy docs

Darlene Nelsphotographed her Gary Ind. home Friday September 2 2011 will celebrate fifth anniversary her kidney transplant September 14.

Darlene Nelson, photographed in her Gary, Ind. home Friday September 2, 2011, will celebrate the fifth anniversary of her kidney transplant September 14. Her son, Josepé Lee McClinton (cq), of Indianapolis, donated the kidney. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Transplants

IU Health has largest kidney transplant program in Indiana and the ninth-largest in the U.S., performing more than 250 kidney transplants annually, 75 percent of all kidney transplants in Indiana. Half of its kidney transplants are from living donors.

IU Health’s organ transplant program overall is the country’s fourth largest, according to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

IU Health performed 47 kidney transplants on Lake County residents in 2010, 39 on Porter County residents and nine on LaPorte County residents.

Gift of Hope, the Chicago-based organ procurement organization serving most of Illinois and Northwest Indiana, facilitated 13 Northwest Indiana organ donations in 2010.

Chicago boasts six organ transplant centers: Advocate Christ Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, University of Chicago Medical Center, University of Illinois Chicago Medical Center, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Loyola University Medical Center and Northwestern Medical Center.

In 2010, Lake County residents received 71 transplanted organs, 44 of which were kidneys, compared to 50 organs in 2009, 26 of which were kidneys. In 2010, Porter County residents received 15 transplanted organs, 11 of which were kidneys. F

In 2010 LaPorte County residents received eight transplanted organs, six of which were kidneys. Sources: IU Health Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program, Gift of Hope, United Network for Organ Sharing

Updated: November 4, 2011 8:14PM



After Darlene Nelson’s successful kidney transplant five years ago, the Gary resident had to travel to Indianapolis every week for follow-up care to the transplant center at IU Health, formerly Clarian Health.

That meant arranging transportation and spending an entire day in the state capital.

“It was hard,” Nelson said. “Sometimes nobody could go with me. It was a long ride. Sometimes I would stay over with family, but then I’d have to find a ride back.”

Now Nelson, 56, a Gary resident and former hairdresser, and other local kidney transplant patients, only needs to travel to Gary’s Glen Park neighborhood for follow-up care.

That’s because IU Health recently launched a telemedicine clinic in Gary for local kidney transplant patients.

Officials at IU Health said the center is a convenience for Northwest Indiana kidney patients who would otherwise have to travel to Indianapolis for follow-up visits after their kidney operations.

The clinic, one of seven located throughout the state, will be open the third Friday of each month for a telemedicine clinic, allowing IU Health transplant surgeons and nephrologists, or kidney specialists, to examine Northwest Indiana patients remotely. The patients are in a specially equipped examining room at Indiana University Northwest with a nurse while the IU Health physicians are in Indianapolis. The examining rooms feature two digital cameras: one with a wide angle lens and another that allows close ups.

Tim Taber, a nephrologist and medical director of kidney and pancreas transplant programs at IU Health, said the Gary clinic expects to see eight to 10 post-transplant patients during each clinic. Most of them received their kidneys at IU Health. Another 10 to 20 prospective local kidney transplant patients are examined by IU Health transplant staff each month at its Northwest Indiana clinic to prepare for the surgery.

“The nurse takes the vital signs and then the patient enters the examining room. It’s just like a regular exam. We can see each other and talk and joke and review the labs, we can do everything but touch them,” said Taber, who explained that much of the visit reviews how the transplant patients are doing with their medications.

He said surgical wound sites, ankle swelling and other potential problems are reviewed by the nurse, but Taber said the cameras provide tight close-ups for the examining physicians in Indianapolis.

Taber said the advantage for patients having the transplants performed in Indianapolis is shorter waiting times. “After the transplants, they’re our patients and we provide follow-up care, a service that is easier to access.”

He said the equipment has been reliable and he can see and hear patients well.

“This a partnership with local nephrologists and a very positive thing for patients,” said Taber, who said the local telemedicine kidney transplant clinic may eventually expand to serve other organ transplant patients.

David Aschbach, a nephrologist with offices in Gary and Merrillville, said his practice treats many patients who are unable to afford to have transplant surgeries performed in Chicago, where six transplant centers within 50 miles can do the surgeries. Aschbach said uninsured and Medicaid patients are usually required under Indiana laws to have those operations performed within the state.

“But it’s equally a burden to get them transferred to Indianapolis,” Aschbach said. “The state of Indiana keeps its eggs in Indianapolis. We have no transplant center in Northwest Indiana, so those who can’t afford to have it done in Chicago have to go to Indy. This is hard if you’re poor. Still, IU Health has been doing a nice job of taking care of our patients.”

He applauded the telemedicine clinic in Gary as a great convenience.

“This expands our ability to care for patients post-transplant,” he said. “These patients have highly specialized issues that transplant surgeons and transplant nephrologists are more experienced in dealing with. This is basically altruistic and these guys are trying to help.”

Janet Seabrook, the medical director of the Community HealthNet community health center in Gary, donated a kidney in August 2010 to her father, John Seabrook of Gary. Seabrook said her father was familiar with Northwestern Memorial Hospital and appreciated its closer proximity to Northwest Indiana.

“This will lift the burden for travel. It’s a great way to serve transplant patients and help their families.”

Darlene Nelson said she appreciates the convenience and said the telemedicine exams are just like the real thing.

“It’s good, even though we’re far away,” she said. “You can watch them (her doctors) on a TV monitor, and talk directly to them, and they see you and ask how you’re doing. It is really great. And you don’t have to worry about finding transportation to Indianapolis and back home.”



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