By Ashley Benkarski with JacFranz Guiteau, M.D.,
Surgical Director of TriStar Centennial’s Organ Transplant Program
NASHVILLE, TN— TriStar Centennial Medical Center’s new surgical director of its organ transplant program, Jacfranz Guiteau, MD, is advocating for education about kidney disease, a condition that disproportionately affects the black community.
Nationally, there is already a significant shortage of organs available for transplantation as each year only 15 percent of the 100,000 patients who need a kidney transplant receive one. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health notes that black Americans are almost four times more likely to suffer from kidney disease as whites and also account for about 35 percent of kidney disease patients despite making up 13 percent of the population. The racial disparity lies in the lack of access to health education and services that result in higher rates of illnesses. Dr. Guiteau says conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can cause damage to the kidneys and eventually lead to kidney disease.
“TriStar Centennial Medical Center’s Organ Transplant Program is dedicated to educating our neighbors here in Nashville as well as all of the patients who come to us from various communities throughout middle Tennessee and beyond,” Dr. Guiteau said. “We provide a service to our patients that we believe is very streamlined because transplantation can be confusing. We pride ourselves on providing a personal touch with our patients, from our office staff to all the people who are involved with the transplant program throughout the hospital. We really focus on getting people in the office as quickly as possible, getting their questions answered, and being up front and transparent with what they can expect because the best patient is an educated patient.”
Known as “the silent killer,” kidney failure “is a very slow but very difficult process to stop,” Dr. Guiteau said. “When people start to develop kidney disease oftentimes they don’t feel anything. It does its work without giving you any symptoms until it’s far along.” Though it may sound cliché, Dr. Guiteau points out that the best treatment is prevention. He recommends seeing a physician annually to get lab work done and monitor blood pressure. Yearly check-ups can alert your primary care physician to early warning signs of diabetes and high blood pressure—conditions that often occur together in a patient and can lead to kidney disease.
“If you look at kidney failure across the United States, diabetes is the number one cause of kidney failure,” Dr. Guiteau said. High blood pressure is the second leading cause, and both conditions also disproportionately affect black Americans.
Dr. Guiteau advises people who suffer from chronic kidney disease to get on a transplant list early, as Tennessee’s wait to get a kidney transplant typically takes four to six years. Patients do have the option of a living donor which can speed up the transplant wait time. “The number of available donors in the United States is pretty much stagnant every year,” Dr. Guiteau said. “The only way to really increase the number of people who are able to be transplanted is to increase the number of live donor kidneys.” On average, kidneys donated from live donors can last twice as long as those received from a deceased donor.
While transplantation might not be an option for everyone—like those with active cancer—it can be a goal to work toward. “The ability to take people from that level of quality of life and to give them back their lives, their energy, and the ability to be away from the dialysis machine for as long as their kidney lasts is what drew me into transplantation,” Dr. Guiteau said. “It’s such a huge difference, and not only is the difference in quality of life, but also it’s a difference in the longevity of life because people who get transplants have longer lives than people who remain on dialysis. And that’s why I say dialysis really should be seen as a bridge to transplantation because everybody who has chronic kidney disease should consider transplantation early on in their process, so that they can have the longest and most productive life they could possibly have.”
Dr. Guiteau, with the support of TriStar Centennial’s staff, is fighting the statistics with a “grassroots” initiative that involves outreach to other medical professionals, dialysis centers and media to spread education about kidney failure and the benefits of kidney transplantation, especially with living donation. He hopes that people will see TriStar Centennial’s transplant program as a resource for information about chronic kidney disease.
If you’d like to know more about chronic kidney disease or transplantation, you may call TriStar Centennial Medical Center’s Organ Transplant Program office at 615-342-5626.