Transplant Center
Rhode Island Hospital

The Transplant Center at Rhode Island Hospital Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary

The transplant center at Rhode Island Hospital (RIH) has been delivering the gift of life since 1997, when its first patient, a male, received a kidney (renal) transplant. He is alive and well today, and one of the many reasons the center is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Advancements in Care

Paul Morrissey, MD, a surgeon at RIH for 25 years, became the director of the transplant center in 2002. His medical training and professional career have coincided with advancements in science, technology, and healthcare that have improved the chances for kidney transplant patients. 

"In the early days of kidney transplantation, only a small percentage of kidneys lasted one year," Dr Morrissey said. "Today, a living donor kidney functions, on average, 12 to 20 years, and a deceased donor kidney from 8 to 12 years."

In total, there have been 1,448 kidney transplants performed at the center since its inception. The center, which focuses on kidney donations and transplants, is the only facility of its kind in Rhode Island, and ranks high among those within New England.

Giving and Receiving

A fundamental requirement of a renal transplantation program is reliable access to donor organs. The transplant center at Rhode Island Hospital is on the forefront of innovative techniques to promote both living and deceased organ donation. Approximately 40 percent of the transplanted kidneys at Rhode Island Hospital are from living donors – comprising nearly 600 live donor-recipient pairs. Outcomes are better for those who receive their kidney from a live donor. For 25 years, the hospital’s Living Donor Program has succeeded in improving the lives of its recipients. Furthermore, its program was one of the first worldwide to implement non-directed living kidney donation, whereby a motivated individual donates a kidney to a stranger.

“We have had 53 people give a kidney to a stranger. This is the largest experience with this type of donation in New England and points to our willingness to help donors make their wish a reality,” Dr. Morrissey noted. “It is an indication of the altruism and charitable nature of people in Southern New England. We were one of the first centers in the US to allow strangers to donate a kidney, a practice that is now widely accepted.”

Deceased donation is facilitated by donor registries coordinated in most states by their divisions of motor vehicles. Anyone can register at Donate Life New England.

Every April, Donate Life America organizes National Donate Life Month, encouraging donations of organs and tissues for transplants, both living and deceased.

By the Numbers

Nationally, current statistics show:

  • The average wait time for a kidney is 3 to 5 years.
  • There are 37 million American adults with mild to moderate kidney disease, and most do not know it. More than 400,000 have end-stage renal disease and require dialysis. 
  • One in three American adults is at risk for kidney disease.
  • There are 100,000 people on the kidney transplant list.

A retrospective of statistics from the transplant center show:

  • The youngest patient to receive a transplant was four years old. The oldest was 80.
  • The youngest living donor to the transplant center was 18. The oldest was 73.
  • Of all recipients, 60 percent have been male.
  • As of April 2022, there are 226 Rhode Islanders on the wait list for a kidney.

Asked what attracted him to his professional specialty, Dr. Morrissey said, “Transplantation is a great combination of complex surgery, fascinating science (immunology), and challenging patient care. The reward, liberating patients from dialysis and improving their quality of life, is priceless.”

Current Research and the Future

Although there is no cure for kidney disease, treatment remains the most effective way to manage it. “The field continues to evolve in fascinating ways,” Dr. Morrissey noted. “Recent improvements in immune-related medications and transplants of organs from pigs suggest that the future of end-stage renal disease care will be even better.”

The transplant center at Rhode Island Hospital is at the forefront of critical advances in transplantation. Currently, Dr. Morrissey, the transplant team, and especially Drs. Reginald Gohh, Basma Merhi, Ralph Rogers, George Bayliss, Dimitrios Farmakiotis, and all Lifespan affiliates, are working on trials of immune monitoring to help guide interventions to extend the survival of renal transplants. 

What is on the horizon for the next 25 years at the transplant center? “More transplants,” says Dr. Morrissey. “And, hopefully, greater numbers of living donor evaluations and donations to help the more than 1,000 Rhode Islanders currently on dialysis.”