Transplanting hope

Transplanting hope

UF surgeon serving as president of United Network for Organ Sharing

By Kelsey Meany

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Immunology was his calling. At least that’s what Kenneth Andreoni, M.D., thought when he was a new medical student. It was the early 1980s and immunology was in its infancy — HIV didn’t even have a name yet. The researchers teaching immunology courses were writing the textbooks on the emerging discipline.

But a pig changed Andreoni’s mind.

For a thesis project during his first year as a Yale medical student, Andreoni began performing research with a physician who happened to be a transplant surgeon. One day, to his surprise, his mentor asked Andreoni to help with a kidney transplant operation on a pig. Andreoni then discovered what he has now been doing since 1996: performing transplants.

“I think most people have that one time when someone went out of their way personally and grabbed them into something — no matter what it is in life,” he said.

Andreoni, the current president of the United Network for Organ Sharing — which determines how organs are allocated in the United States — is now one of Gainesville’s newest residents and a surgeon in the UF College of Medicine.

September marked the 13th month since he joined UF . And although there’s been an obvious adjustment period, he has fit right into his team of five abdominal transplant surgeons. Kidneys, livers and pancreata are the group’s passion — and they all operate on both children and adults, follow up with postoperative care and perform clinical evaluation of patients.

Andreoni’s work is dependent on the availability of the organs — which makes for an interesting schedule of a lot of nights and weekends, except for living donor kidney transplants.

“There are different patient challenges. Here we have a patient that has to drive six hours to get to the hospital to have their transplant and we’re waiting on them because they’re driving 70 miles per hour for six hours to get here. In big cities, it may be three bus stops away. The distances can really have effects on programs in different ways,” he said.

Andreoni graduated with a medical degree from Yale University in 1988. Yale was followed by a residency at The Johns Hopkins University, where he then completed fellowships in both gastrointestinal surgery and immunology research.

He has been named one of the Best Doctors in America by the Columbus Monthly Magazine Physician Roundtable in 2010 and 2011 and was listed among the top 1 percent in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in 2012, among other awards and accolades.

As president for the 2013-2014 term of the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS , a nonprofit organization managing United States organ transplant allocation, the doctor is aiming to help in policy changes and regulations. Previously, he served as chair of the Kidney Committee and founding chair of the Kidney Paired Donation project.

“It’s helpful that a lot of things that are happening now we can put into practice that we know are going to be mandatory in the near future. It also helps to have a good pulse of what else is going out in the country,” he said. “What we’re trying to do now, very aggressively, is to really change national policy.”