UF gets $1 million grant for lung transplant center
Published: Friday, October 1, 2010 at 7:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 at 7:46 p.m.
In the records of the transplant center at Shands at the University of Florida, Tom Telford is Patient No. 199.
Shands UF lung transplants
• Performed first lung transplant in state in spring of 1994.
• As of Oct. 1, lung transplants totaled 493.
• One-year patient survival rate is 82 percent, among the best in the nation.
Telford, a semiretired nuclear engineer, was tethered to an oxygen tank in his South Florida home in 2002, his lungs rapidly deteriorating from pulmonary fibrosis.
That's when he was referred to the program at Shands UF and put on the waiting list for a lung transplant. Three months later, in December, a donor was found and Telford got a second chance at life.
He's made the most of it.
After a successful transplant, Telford, who is now a Gainesville resident, has made it his mission to find funding for research into chronic rejection, the most common reason patients die after a lung transplant.
In a ceremony Friday at the Shands Cancer Hospital, Telford joined other transplant recipients to hear the announcement that UF has received a $1 million grant to establish a lung transplant center and fund research projects aimed at solving such post-transplant dilemmas as chronic rejection.
After his transplant, Telford gathered a group around him, including pediatric professor emeritus John Ross and transplant center director Maher Baz, dedicated to lobbying state legislators about the need for more education about and research into organ transplantation.
They found willing advocates in state Sen. Steve Oelrich, who has been an active supporter of organ donation since the death of his 18-year-old son Nick in 1995, and House Speaker Larry Cretul, who heard Oelrich speak in 1997 or 1998 about his son's death and the decision to donate his organs.
Oelrich said he first heard about organ donation after flying his dying son back to Shands UF from Cancun, Mexico, after a spring break accident. Nick Oelrich's heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, tissue and muscle have helped more than 100 people, the former Alachua County sheriff said Friday.
“This decision (to be an organ donor) should be made as a family around the kitchen table, not in the hallway of some emergency room,” he told listeners.
Baz told of how the group traveled back and forth between Gainesville and Tallahassee, “speed limit be damned,” to lobby state legislators.
“This million dollars in funding allows us to put into motion what had only existed on paper,” Baz said.
Five projects focused on chronic rejection involving researchers from UF's colleges of medicine and engineering will get startup funding from the grant.
“Of the solid organ transplant, the survival rate of lung transplants is unfortunately the lowest,” said Dr. Mark Brantly, division chief of pulmonary medicine. Brantly will direct research efforts for the new lung transplant center. The money also will go toward developing an improved pediatric lung transplant program at Shands Children's Hospital at UF.