Home  |  Library  |  PRIME  |  Newsroom  |  A-Z Guide  |  E-mail  |  Directions

The Transplant Program at SUNY-Downstate (NYDS)

Rainer WG Gruessner, M.D., Chairman, Department of Surgery at SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Dr. Rainer Gruessner, Chairman of the Department of Surgery

The Downstate Transplant Program of the State University of New York (SUNY) was established in 1965. Two transplant pioneers, transplant surgeon Dr. Samuel L. Kountz and transplant nephrologist Dr. Eli Friedman, initially directed one of the largest kidney transplant programs in the Northeast and one of the first ones in the nation to exceed 1,000 kidney transplants. In 1961, while working at Stanford University Medical Center, Dr. Kountz performed one of the first successful kidney transplants between humans who were not identical twins. Six years later, he and a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, were involved in the development of the prototype for the "Belzer" kidney perfusion machine, a device that could preserve kidneys for up to 50 hours. In 1976, Dr. Friedman invented the "Suitcase Kidney," a portable dialysis machine scaled to fit a metal attache case. It permitted dialysis patients to perform hemodialysis off site and, at the time, provided them with freedom from local dialysis centers and enhanced quality of life.

Subsequently, the Division of Transplantation was led by Drs. Khalid Butt, Bruce Sommer, Dale Distant and Devon John. To date, Downstate's kidney transplant program has performed more than 3,000 kidney transplants and remains a leader in innovative therapy. In 1966, the first successful dual kidney transplant in New York State was done at SUNY Downstate. Dual kidney transplants expand the use of kidneys that might not otherwise be transplanted.

Since 2019, the Transplant Division is led by Dr. Rainer WG Gruessner who was the first surgeon to perform all types of solid organ transplants (kidney, pancreas, liver, intestine) from living donors. Kidney transplants from living donors provide better outcome than from deceased donors, basically doubling the median kidney graft survival from 10 to 20 years. We passionately promote living over deceased donation. All of our donors undergo laparoscopic donor nephrectomy which requires only a small incision and reduces postoperative pain and length of hospitalization (2-4 days on average). In 2018, SUNY-Downstate became the first institution to perform a kidney transplant from a living donor after the patient had undergone a living donor intestinal (bowel) transplant 10 years earlier.

(Living donor bowel transplant recepient with her kidney donor) (Recipient, Dr. Salifu, Dr. Gruessner)

Dr. Gruessner is also considered a pioneer in pancreas transplantation. In 1994, he performed the first laparoscopic kidney and partial pancreas removal from a living donor. Both organs were successfully transplanted into a diabetic patient with kidney failure who immediately became insulin-independent and dialysis free. The Department of Surgery is now also home to the International Pancreas Transplant Registry (IPTR), the only remaining, independent, worldwide registry of any type of organ transplant. Currently, information on over 60,000 pancreas transplants performed worldwide has been collected by IPTR which has been instrumental in establishing gold standards for surgical techniques and immunosuppressive therapy. In late 2018, the transplant program at SUNY-Downstate (NYDS) received approval for pancreas transplantation and is poised to become a leader in kidney and pancreas transplantation for diabetic patients.

Although the clinical results of islet transplantation still trail those of pancreas transplantation, the transplant and Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary programs at SUNY-Downstate have recently started a successful islet auto-transplant program for the treatment of chronic pancreatitis. Plans are underway to also develop an islet allo-transplant program for the treatment of diabetes mellitus and a life without insulin.

Recently, multi-organ transplant surgeon Dr. John Renz, the former Director of the Liver Transplant Program at the University of Arizona and University of Chicago, joined the Division of Transplantation to expand our transplant services. The surgical team is complemented by Dr. Nabil Sumrani who has been associated with Downstate's transplant program since 1990. Transplant medicine is led by Dr. Moro Salifu, Chairman of the Department of Medicine and a transplant nehrologist by training, and Dr. Fasika Tedla. In addition, Dr. Amarpali Brar and Dr. Subodh Saggi, the Medical Director of the Pancreas Transplant program, serve on the transplant medicine team.

(SUNY-Downstate Surgeons and Physicians Team) (Dr. Schwartzman, Dr. Sumrani, Dr. Gruessner and Dr.Renz)

Our transplant team also includes many devoted staff members such as transplant coordinators, midlevel providers, transplant nurse specialists, transplant social workers, transplant pharmacist and nutritionist, transplant assistants and the administrative transplant director. Inpatient care for all transplant recipients is provided on a specifically dedicated transplant floor named in honor of Dr. Kountz.

(SUNY-Downstate Transplant Coordinator Team) (SUNY-Downstate Transplant Specialist Team)

Patient education is highly emphasized at SUNY Downstate, both pre- and post-transplant. Transplant candidates are encouraged to learn as much as possible about transplantation and both formal and informal teaching sessions are an integral part of the program. We also conduct donor-specific education sessions during which potential donors meet and freely interact with those who have already donated a kidney to a family member. These meetings facilitate open discussion of many issues, especially those of personal concern to donors, and allows potential donors the opportunity to have their non-medical questions answered from the perspective of those who have experienced the procedure first hand.

SUNY-Downstate's transplant program clearly stands out by providing services to one of the most ethnically diverse patient population in the nation. As part of the only public Medical School in New York City it also delivers transplant care to an underserved patient population across all Brooklyn neighborhoods.

The SUNY Downstate transplant team is proud of its long history of accomplishments and works diligently to maintain the highest standards of care and professionalism. We welcome input from patients and their families, referring physicians and all health care professionals and are available 24 hours a day to meet the needs of all patients with kidney failure and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

(SUNY-Downstate Transplant Team) (Dr. Gruessner and Dr. Salifu, Chairmen of Surgery and Medicine Departments.)