Hackensack Meridian Health’s Organ Transplantation unit Offers Comprehensive Care To Kidney Patients

By Jessica Jones-Gorman

As one of the few certified organ transplant providers in New Jersey, Hackensack Meridian Health’s Organ Transplantation Division strives to offer a comprehensive, unified approach to the care of transplant patients partnering with them, their families, and their referring physicians to treat chronic kidney disease. Part of this life giving program is about making connections between living organ donors and transplant recipients. The number of successful kidney transplants the hospital has done has grown annually, and the department has become a lifesaving resource for more and more local and state residents.

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“I think that our program has significantly grown due to the hard work of the transplant team and the collaboration and support by Hackensack University Medical Center leadership,” noted Dr. James Lim, program director and chief of transplant surgery at the Hackensack University Medical Center.

According to Lim, in 2016, the number of transplants the center did were double the previous year’s total. The numbers for 2017 have already surpassed 2016’s and are continuing to grow. For Lim, who has almost three decades of experience in transplant surgery, those numbers are gratifying.

“Providing a better quality of life for a growing number of patients is the reason I followed this career path,” he said.

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Born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in the U.S. Midwest, Lim attended The University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine before completing his internship and residency at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He did his transplant fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh before serving as chief of pancreas transplants at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick and transplant program director and chief at the Lankenau Medical Center in Pennsylvania, part of the Jefferson Health System in Philadelphia.

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“I got into transplants because one of the best surgeons at the hospital where I did my residency told me to,” Lim said with a laugh. “He was a great surgeon everyone wanted to work with him, and when he told you to jump, you asked how high. When he suggested I look into transplant surgery, I of course heeded his advice.

“I was also drawn to this specialty because the ability to correct, heal, and fix a disease surgically has a quick response and satisfaction that you just don’t see in any other field. You have this ability to treat a patient someone on dialysis who is suffering daily and literally change their life overnight. To be able to help someone like that is so rewarding.” But the continuous demand for donor organs is what makes his job consistently challenging.

“What makes transplant surgery so complex is that it is a matter of supply and demand? There are well over 120,000 people waiting for a transplant, and the supply is still so limited,” Lim said. “The average wait for a kidney in our area is five years nearly twice as long as in New York City and a living donor transplant, which offers optimal health faster for the patient, is often difficult to come by.”

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Lim is hopeful that landmark changes in the way donor operations are performed will bring an increase in living donors.
“Living donors used to be subjected to an open flank incision one of the most painful to recover from while the organ recipient had the least painful incision,” Lim said. “But the introduction of laparoscopic techniques has proved to be a major improvement in living donation surgery. In the past, recuperation would take six to eight weeks. But now, with the advent of these minimally invasive procedures, patients at Hackensack University Medical Center are usually in and out within two days. And depending on their line of work, they can usually return to all normal activities within a month.”

Major advances in medicine have also helped.
“We have a better understanding now of some of the different issues that can make a kidney worse as well as how to diagnose and treat those issues,” Lim said. “And there is a new line of intravenous meds that do not have the same strong side effects as other anti rejection drugs, so there are new options for transplant patients.”

What has remained constant in the field, however, is the need for donors.

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“A donor organ is like the Holy Grail for us,” Lim said. “Last year across the United States, we did 19,000 kidney transplants, 13,000 of which came from deceased donors, 6,000 from living donors. We are in constant need, and while we are still not at the stage where we can grow organs, necessity is the mother of invention. We in the field of transplants are consistently pushing the envelope, always searching for what move to make next.”

While Lim acknowledges that many of those advances are not imminent, he is certain they will someday bene t transplant patients.

“The potential to grow or regenerate organs may not happen in my lifetime, but I believe it’s an advance that will happen for future residents of this program,” he said. “There are places in the country that are already researching how to improve damaged kidneys, so genetically engineered transplant organs are definitely within our grasp.”

Hackensack Meridian Health’s Organ Transplantation Division has also recently expanded to include a satellite office at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, enabling the hospital system to better serve residents of areas all over the state. “We have a much larger footprint now and are able to provide services to South and Central New Jersey, where there was a void,” Lim said.

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Helping the maximum number of patients return to their normal daily routines has always been Lim’s goal. “Organ transplantation is a challenging process,” he said. “Our ultimate goal and expectation is to assist as many patients as we can in achieving optimal health.”

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Hackensack Meridian Health
800.560.9990 / meridianhealth.com