When Alexia Paden learned she would need a kidney transplant, all she hoped for was a few more years of life to watch her young son grow.
That was 36 years ago. Today, Paden is a proud grandmother who is about to celebrate her 46th wedding anniversary with her husband, John.
"It's pure happiness," Paden says.
Paden is one of many patients at Sharp Memorial Hospital who are beating the odds when it comes to survival after a kidney or heart transplant. On average, kidneys from deceased donors last eight to 12 years, but a kidney transplant that is well cared for can last decades. The same is true for heart transplants, which last about 10 years on average.
Better survival rates for transplant patients can be attributed to many factors, says Dr. Steven Steinberg, Paden's nephrologist and the medical director of Sharp Memorial's Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program. These include advances in medications that keep donated organs working properly, as well as better research about how patients can stay healthy long term. Hospitals like Sharp Memorial that routinely perform kidney and heart transplants are also better equipped to manage the complex care these patients require, Steinberg says.
To that point, survival rates for Sharp Memorial patients at one month, one year and three years following their transplants — statistics measured by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — exceed national benchmarks for both kidney and heart transplantation.
"We are exceedingly proud of the success we've had in keeping our patients healthy," Steinberg says. "Our expert care teams are committed to achieving the best possible outcomes for those who entrust us with their care."
Since Sharp Memorial's heart transplant program began in 1985, more than half of the 414 patients who have received a heart transplant lived longer than a decade. The hospital's longest-living heart transplant patient is still living; he received his new heart in 1988 — nearly three decades ago.
Carol Rice, whose heart transplant was 15 years ago, credits her continuing health to exercise, a positive attitude and the support of her Sharp Memorial caregivers, who she says are always available to answer her questions.
Less than a year after her transplant, Rice met her husband, a fellow horse lover. Today, the couple owns three dogs and four horses, and enjoys spending their time horseback riding and camping.
"My goal is to hit 30 years post-transplant," Rice says. "I'm halfway there."
Paden believes a good diet, taking her medications on schedule and keeping appointments with Dr. Steinberg are reasons she continues to thrive. Before her transplant, Paden required dialysis to keep her alive. Eating, drinking, traveling and working were all a challenge.
Now, after her transplant, Paden has been able to travel to her birthplace in the Philippines to visit family. She volunteers with Renal Empowered Mentors for Education in Nephrology & Dialysis (ReMend) and helps other patients through their kidney transplant journeys, particularly those with a Filipino heritage.
She also looks forward to sleepovers with her 6-year-old granddaughter.
"It's really a blessing that I'm still here, 36 years later," Paden says. "I never imagined living this long."
For the news media: April is National Donate Life Month, which honors the hundreds of thousands of donors and recipients whose lives have been touched by organ donation. To talk with Dr. Steinberg about organ donation, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.