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Melinda Rogers

Communications Specialist, University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs

Feb 27, 2014 7:21 AM

Patient Scott Kent and Dr. Robin Kim talk after a check-up following Kent's liver transplant
Patient Scott Kent and Dr. Robin Kim talk after a check-up following Kent's Dec.30, 2013 liver transplant at University Hospital in Salt Lake City.

(Salt Lake City) — Scott Kent was visiting family in Montana to celebrate Christmas in 2012 when a jolting pain in his abdomen disrupted the festivities.

At first, Kent chalked up the feeling to overindulging on the holidays. But as his condition worsened, family in Missoula convinced him to see a local doctor on Dec. 26, 2012.  An MRI at that appointment revealed an unexpected diagnosis: Kent had liver cancer. 

“I was floored,” said Kent, 50, who lives in Farmington and is a partner in construction business Great Basin Industrial. “ They said the “C-word” and it freaked me out.”

Kent and his wife canceled plans to travel from Montana to Canada as part of an extended trip during the holidays and returned to Utah instead, where doctors at the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute began formulating a treatment plan.

Robin Kim, M.D., chief of liver transplantation at the University of Utah, oversaw Kent’s case from the beginning.  In March 2013, Kent underwent exploratory surgery and soon after started chemotherapy and radiation to attack the cancer.  But Kent would need more to heal and he was placed on the list for a liver transplant in September.

His wait wasn’t long. He received a liver transplant at University Hospital on Dec.30, 2013 and eight weeks out from the operation he’s thriving —a development he credits largely to Dr. Kim and others who provided his care.

“Everybody at the University of Utah has been just phenomenal. I can’t imagine having a better experience anywhere else,” said Kent.

Newly released statistics show that more patients like Kent are turning to the University of Utah for liver transplant services. While the U.’s liver transplant program is one of the youngest in the region, it has established itself as among the most successful. In 2013, the University of Utah performed the most liver transplants in the state, with 35 patients undergoing life-saving procedures at the U.

The U.’s liver transplant program’s success isn’t solely based on numbers, however. After Kim took the helm of the liver transplant program three years ago, the program has reached new heights under his leadership.  One example of the program’s positive strides is a recent prestigious designation from the University HealthSystem Consortium for the outcomes of patients who’ve received a liver transplant at the U.

The consortium, an alliance of more than 100 academic medical centers and nearly 250 of their affiliate hospitals (which represent more than 90 percent of the nation’s nonprofit academic medical centers) determined that in the past three years, the University of Utah’s operative death rate for its liver transplant program is zero.

The designation means that not only are more patients choosing to undergo liver transplants at University Hospital, but those who are undergoing transplants are surviving at a high rate and going on to live healthy lives after their procedures. Of the 68 liver transplant programs in the U.S. eligible for a critique by the UHC, only four, including the University of Utah, have met the criteria for an operative death rate of zero, said Kim.

“The University of Utah has a dedicated liver transplant team that includes liver transplant hepatologists and surgeons. In addition, we partner with Huntsman Cancer Institute to treat transplant patients battling cancer,” said Kim. “All of our patients are able to take advantage of a multi-disciplinary group of doctors that work on liver diseases in a variety of departments at the University of Utah.”

The approach of team care only available at an academic medical center sets the U. apart from other liver transplant programs in the region. The U. gives patients important access to doctors from specific specialties who are able to come together to focus on the specific needs of a patient, said Kim. 

“When a patient is able to access doctors of many different specialties, they draw upon the strengths of each specialty rather than just one or two specialties,” said Kim.  “In addition, our multi-disciplinary team formulates plans that are customized for each patient, employing the treatment possibilities of each specialty which ultimately leads to better outcomes for liver transplant patients.”

For patients like Kent, the University of Utah’s liver transplant program has restored a quality of life that was absent while he battled cancer. Following his procedure, he said he has noticed a new level of energy. He has time to focus on his industrial construction business again and is enjoying time with family in addition to hobbies like fishing and hunting.

“Everybody at the University of Utah works very closely in conjunction to give patients the care they need,” said Kent.  “My stay in the hospital was top-notch.”

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