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CAMC celebrates 128 successful kidney transplants in 2023

West Virginia Press Association Staff Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “CAMC Kidney Transplant was the first kidney transplant program in West Virginia. We started out in 1987, and that year we did seven transplants.”

That’s what Alice Jones, CAMC’s Kidney Transplant administrator told reporters on Wednesday, during a celebration at Charleston’s General Hospital in honor of the program’s record-breaking year in 2023. To commemorate the occasion, doctors, staff, donors, and transplant recipients released 128 balloons in front of the hospital – one for each transplant completed last year.

“We’ve continued to grow, and 128 (in 2023) was the most that we’ve ever done,” Jones noted. “But it’s more than just a number; it’s lives that have been saved, lives that are changed. Our patients are no longer surviving – they’re living.”

Since the program’s inception some 37-years ago, Jones added, a total of 1,784 kidney transplants have been performed through CAMC. 

“Our patients are more than a patient to us, they’re more than a number,” Jones, who has served CAMC’s kidney transplant program in various roles for the past 22 years, said. “They’re a person – they’re like our families. Getting to celebrate this today, knowing these people who are like family members, whose lives we’ve improved and made it better and easier for them to get out and enjoy [their lives].”

“Spreading the word” about organ donation, Jones noted, is a vital component to the program’s success, adding that, “None of this would have happened if someone hadn’t signed that card to be an organ donor.”

“Family members who, when they’re going through tragedy, they’re faced with a decision,” Jones said. “And they choose to give life.”

In 2023, the CAMC Kidney Transplant Center was ranked second-best in the nation for transplant wait times by the Scientific Registry for Transplant Recipients. CAMC patients receive a kidney transplant on average of within six-to-eight months, whereas the national average wait time is between five and seven years. 

(l to r) Donna Grass, Kenny Pinkston, and Susan Pinkston. West Virginia Press Association photo

Though mercifully it did not take seven years, Susan Pinkston, whose transplant was performed at CAMC last December, is very familiar with the lengthy and emotional wait. 

“I was waiting for a year-and-a-half,” Susan said. “I was evaluated at four different (kidney) centers, but I’d only been on the list here (CAMC) for two months. The other centers all told me four-to-seven years.”

Joining Susan for the celebration were her sister, Donna Grass, and their brother, Kenny Pinkston. The occasion was extra-special for the siblings, as Donna was also the recipient of a life-saving kidney transplant at CAMC in 2001. Kenny was Donna’s donor.

“I have been truly blessed,” Donna said. “Life is great. He (Kenny) gave me my life back.”

Both women – Donna at 23 years and Susan at two-and-a-half months – are doing exceptionally well since their transplant was performed. And while Susan’s donor was deceased, Kenny is still very much alive and healthy.

“The donor process was very easy,” Kenny said. “It didn’t affect my lifestyle at all. I would encourage anyone to donate.”

CAMC is ranked as a Best Regional Hospital and High Performing Hospital for treatment of kidney failure for 2023-2024 by U.S. News & World Report.

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