Victoria could soon see first transplant center

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

May 10, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.

Two physicians want to do their part in continuing the Crossroads' growth - but in the name of medicine.

Dr. Darmendra Verma, a hepatologist in Victoria, and Dr. Luca Cicalese, director of the University of Texas Medical Branch's Texas Transplant Center in Galveston, plan to open the area's first transplant center in the coming months.

Because Victoria's medical community serves not only Victoria County, but also those surrounding it, a transplant center through UT Medical Branch could not only save lives, but make Victoria a hub for metropolitan-rated medical care.

"We are a regional hub," said Verma, who specializes in liver transplants and gastrointestinal diseases. "A transplant center kind of improves our standing in patient care."

The center, at least for now, would not be able to perform full transplants, but would deal with multi-organ transplant services in regard to pre- and post-operation. Transplants would be handled at UTMB's Texas Transplant Center.

At the center's initial opening, only abdominal and thoracic organ transplant services and treatment for liver cancer would be available.

Even just these services is enough to have many in the Crossroads ease some pre-surgery stress. For instance, the average patient waiting for a liver transplant requires at least 50 clinic visits.

Right now, their only option is to drive to Houston or Galveston for care. This is not a help in emergency situations and is a stress emotionally, physically and financially for the patient, Verma said.

Verma said liver problems is a big issue in the Crossroads. Hepatitis C, especially with the baby boomers, was a huge issue. Obesity and alcohol-related liver damage is also a significant issue.

"I was entrusted in having some kind of a relationship with a bigger transplant center," Verma said.

That's when he met Cicalese.

Cicalese has been looking at a study that showed some populations were under-served when it came to transplant centers.

The Crossroads serves about 250,000, but Cicalese includes the nearly 400,000 residents from Corpus Christi and those in the rural areas as part of the region's population pool.

"Having a large population that doesn't have these types of services in the area, of course, would be potentially dangerous," she said.

Victoria is more than 100 miles away from a transplant center, and the study Cicalese focuses on shows that people who live more than 50 miles away from a center have a higher mortality rate.

"It's disruptive to family and economy," Cicalese said, concerning the distance.

Cicalese has been cultivating existing area physicians, like Verma, to become interested in the center. Already, the idea has been well-received, he said.

"We really would like local physicians involved," he said. "(Victoria) already has the pieces."

The costs of opening and operating a transplant center aren't fully determined, but some in the community have have made $40,000 in commitments for the clinic. An additional $300,000 could help fund leasing the space, hiring some medical staff and covering the up-front pre-and post operative costs.

"We can be up and running in a few months," Cicalese said. "We're trying to make it easier for the patients."



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