Patients counting on transplant clinic to stay open

Hawaii Medical Center
Hawaii Medical Center
Wesley Nanamori
Wesley Nanamori
Patricia Mau-Shimizu
Patricia Mau-Shimizu

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Medical Center bankruptcy has much more than a financial impact.  The East clinic in Liliha has the state's only transplant center and losing it would change people's lives.

An organ transplant is certainly not an outpatient procedure. It requires weeks of care before and after the operation and people that have had it say it's priceless having it here in Hawaii.

Wesley Nanamori and Patricia Mau-Shimizu don't know each other, but do know what it means to be given a new life.  Both are organ recipients who credit the Hawaii Medical Center Transplant Clinic for saving their lives.

"I think I would have died within a year so 2001 would have been my last year on Earth," said Nanamori, who had an enlarged heart. He received the transplant ten years ago.

Nanamori says if the transplant clinic wasn't in Hawaii he would have had to move to the mainland because once you get the call a donor is found you need to be on the operating table within about five hours.

"It's not a matter of returning to Hawaii getting a call, jumping on an airplane and returning to the mainland," said Nanamori. "That's the big impact of not having any transplant center in Hawaii. Pretty much it's a long expensive period waiting on the mainland."

Waiting for that call can take months.  Then follow up can add another six months.  There is the chance the body will reject the organ or infection. Patients can't get sick so flying is risky.  Essentially he could have had to move as long as a year and insurance doesn't pay for travel or living expenses.

"Their lives depend on having a hospital with a transplant center locally," said Nanamori.

"Local people would be at a very very terrible disadvantage," said Patricia Mau-Shimizu, a kidney recipient.

Mau-Shimizu is retiring as the chief clerk at the state house of representatives.  Yesterday was her retirement party. Tomorrow is her last day on the job.  It was all made possible because of the kidney transplant she had two years ago.

"I wouldn't be able to retire from the state and move on to another job but the transplant gave me another chapter in the book of my life. I wouldn't have been able to do this. I might not even be here today if it were not for the transplant," said Mau-Shimizu.

Had the clinic not been in Hawaii she and her donor would have had to fly to the mainland for weeks if not months.  Her donor is a friend and co-worker CJ Leong, who coincidently will be taking over as chief clerk.

However some donors may not be able to afford to be away from home for weeks.

"In terms of if Hawaii Medical Center East ever goes under and is not operational it's the logistics that would really impact the local people," said Mau-Shimizu.

Typically the transplant clinic performs between 70 to 100 operations a year.

Right now there are 424 people in Hawaii waiting on an organ transplant, 396 need a kidney.  What happens with Hawaii Medical Center's Transplant Clinic is truly life changing.

"As a beneficiary I wish everybody on the list could have the opportunity that I had," said Mau-Shimizu.

If the Hawaii Medical Center East closed another hospital could try to get certified for organ transplants. However it's a long, federal process. The application is about 200 pages and can take up to six months to be approved.

"The Queen's Health Systems continues to monitor the bankruptcy for Hawaii Medical Center and its implications on health care in Hawaii. While we cannot speculate on what may happen, Queen's takes this situation very seriously. We are mindful of our mission to provide in perpetuity quality health services to improve the well-being of Native Hawaiians and all the people of Hawaii, and that mission will guide us as we move forward," said Art Ushijima, President & CEO, The Queen's Health Systems, in a written statement.

The Hawaii Medical Center will be back in bankruptcy court Wednesday to give an update on the sale process.

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