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Kidney Transplant at Memorial Medical Center Changes Jacksonville Woman’s Life


 A 56-year-old Jacksonville woman says her life was forever changed by a kidney transplant at Memorial Medical Center.

The March 23 procedure, which involved a kidney from a deceased donor, freed Denise Hickox from exhausting dialysis sessions to stay alive after being diagnosed with a rare, “I went through dialysis four days a week, 3½ hours a day,” she said. “I just really didn’t care if tomorrow came or not. Now, I have energy. I actually feel good about being up, and I’m not tied down to a dialysis chair.”

Memorial, which operates the Alan G. Birtch, MD, Center for Transplant Services in partnership with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Springfield Clinic, continued deceased-donor transplants with careful evaluations of each case during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A recent article in the scientific journal The Lancet said transplants of deceased-donor organs in the United States dropped 50% from late February to early April, a time when some hospitals were packed with COVID-19 patients and unable to recover organs or free up staff.

Dr. Marc Garfinkel, an SIU associate professor and surgical director of Memorial’s transplant program, credited local health-care providers, policymakers and residents for taking steps to avoid a surge of COVID-19-related illnesses in the community.

“You could argue that we were blessed with enough foresight, based on what was going on in Italy and Asia, to realize what was coming,” he said.

Officials from the transplant program decided to postpone living-donor transplants during the pandemic but continue transplants from deceased donors because of a severe, chronic shortage of such organs, Garfinkel said. Transplants from living donors have since resumed.

“We feel very fortunate to have been able to continue to provide this service while recognizing the regional and national challenges that the pandemic created,” Garfinkel said. “These were important opportunities for people to get off dialysis.”

Twelve kidney transplants have taken place at Memorial since early March.

Hickox, a former child-welfare case aide and former Passavant Area Hospital clerical worker, said it was difficult to go through the five-day hospital stay after the transplant without her adult daughter and primary caregiver, Brittni Pierson, at her side. No-visitor policies have been adopted by Memorial and other hospitals nationwide to reduce the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“Now I could care less,” Hickox said while recovering at home. On dialysis for 2½ years, she said she appreciates her transplant more each day.

Brittni Pierson said: “My mom has been a beacon of strength since the moment she found out that she was in Stage 4 kidney failure. Her strength has never wavered, and she has been an inspiration to all of us the entire way.”