LOWER POTTSGROVE – There may not be a more intense “hurry and wait” scenario than the one surrounding organ transplants.

You don’t need to talk to Skytop Road resident Robert Reifsneider.

By the end of January, he had spent two years on the waiting list, hoping that a liver that matched his blood type would be available for transplant surgery.

A similar expectation is in the medical team. There are almost no words about when the donor organ will be available, so when it appears, a number of important decisions need to be made quickly.

So what do you do when six organs become available at the same time? Answer: You do a lot of work.

That’s what happened to the Penn Medicine transplant team late last month when they transplanted four livers, one kidney and one pair of lungs in 24 hours. Luckily for Robert Reifsneider, he got one of these livers.

The 49-year-old Rifesneider suffered from non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

“I never drank,” he told MediaNews Group on Tuesday.

His illness was diagnosed about seven years ago and it was controlled with medication and weight loss.

“I weighed about 285 and I dropped to 245, and it helped a lot,” said the father of four.

But the disease took its toll, especially in combination with autoimmune disease. Reifsneider, who worked as a meat inspector for 20 years, got a job as a lab technician at Blommer Chocolate to ease his workload. But as his exhaustion overwhelmed him, he was eventually forced to leave this job as well.

“They tried to adapt to me, but I became unreliable,” he explained. “It was unfair to them.”

Instead, his wife Amy got a job at Blommer, working a second shift to support their family, while Reifsneider stayed home.

“I didn’t have the energy and I couldn’t think clearly,” he said.

He taught Sunday school at Berian Bible Church on East High Street, but was also forced to stop it.

“I couldn’t remember anything,” Raifsneider said. “I’m tired all the time. I practiced on the couch. In fact, one day my daughter was very upset because she couldn’t wake me up. “

However, his “MELD (model for end-stage liver disease)” was not high enough to put him at the top of the list for the next available liver that matches his blood type.

“So we weren’t ready when at 2.45 (January 27) they called and said I had a liver. We grabbed what we could and were in the hospital until 4 am, ”he said.

Then came the expectation.

“My 9-year-old son Timothy needed surgery when he was young,” and his daughter Elizabeth, now 20, had cancer when she was 7, “so we used to wait in hospitals,” he said. Raifsneider.

While he waited, the Penn Medicine team worked furiously, according to Dr. Kim Olthaff, MD, head of transplant surgery at Penn Medicine and one of the liver surgeons who made up the teams of people who transplanted four livers into five recipients. One liver was divided between a young woman and a child.

Olthoff answered several questions sent to her from the MediaNews Group.

Kim Althoff, MD, Head of Transplant Surgery at Penn Medicine

“The transplant procedure itself in most cases takes four to eight hours, but we also need time before and after anesthesia, as well as other needs before and after surgery,” Althof wrote. “Some liver transplants turn out to be much more complicated than others. For example, a child’s liver transplant in (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) took longer than in an adult. One of the adult patients was transplanted a few years ago, and he needed a new liver again, so these surgeries also take longer. ”

Reifsneider’s turn came at 11:30 p.m., 19 hours after the call. By 10 a.m., he was recovering in the intensive care unit of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.

But the medical team had little rest while Reifsneider was recovering.

“We couldn’t afford to waste time because the donor organs can’t just sit and wait for them to be introduced, they need to be transplanted as soon as possible because the donor liver works best when out of the body for less than eight to ten hours “- wrote Althhof. “In this case, all the transplants overlapped, and several teams worked to make it happen.”

No one has had time to test whether this is a record for the number of organs transplanted in one day, but the record or not is a remarkable achievement.

“There were so many people involved in it – too many to count,” Oltoff wrote. “It was a grand effort that included several surgeons, anesthesiologists, surgical teams, inpatient teams, procurement teams, environmental operational services staff, nurses and more. Everyone really got together, even the people who didn’t have to work to make sure these patients got a chance to get this lifesaver. ”

The feat becomes even more remarkable given that it happened during a pandemic, when medical personnel across the country were already working beyond their means.

“The pandemic has created a number of obstacles for our team at the Penn Transplant Institute, including the fact that many organ donors have tested positive for Covid-19 and cannot be used, and there is a shortage of blood in the country,” Althhof wrote. .

However, Reifsneider said, despite the huge amount of work, he is especially grateful for how diligent the team is.

“They are very careful. My eldest daughter Abigail wanted to be a living donor for me, but they checked everything out and said it was too much of a risk that it wouldn’t work out. ”

As of now, “I’m closed for the next 90,” Reifsneider said. “The only reason I can leave the house is to see a doctor” for a blood test and adjustments to anti-rejection drugs.

Lower Pottsgrove resident Robert Reifsneider after receiving a new liver in January. (courtesy of Robert Reifsneider)

But he already feels the difference.

“As soon as I woke up in the hospital, I felt different mentally,” he said. “I can think and speak more clearly and physically, I had more energy. Physically, I crashed into several walls, but I’m going through it. “

Such a restoration – music for the ears of Oltoff, as well as her team.

“This would not have been done without the gathering of the whole team and the incredible work of Dr. Abraham Shaked, MD, Director Penn Transplant Institute, who organized all five (liver) transplants, ”Althhof wrote. “It’s great that we can help patients have more time with their loved ones.”

For Oltof, it was a lifelong hobby.

“I have been doing transplant surgery for 30 years and I never get tired of the role I have to play in transforming patients’ lives, ”she wrote. “Donor organs have always been in short supply, so it’s a real blessing to have a team that can come together to implant organs when they are available. Even if they are available all at once, ”she wrote.

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