Specialty: Transplant Surgery
Hospital Affiliation: Albany Medical Center
David Conti, MD, director of Albany Medical Center’s Transplant Program, has been performing transplants for more than 20 years. He is a nationally recognized transplant surgeon and chairman of the New York State Transplant Council. Under Conti’s direction, Albany Medical Center has previously achieved the highest three-year survival rate for transplanted kidneys among 254 transplant programs in the country, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. Of those, 97.4 percent were still functioning after three years vs. 86.7 percent nationally.
What are the most frequent transplants you perform, and why are they so common?
We perform kidney and pancreas transplants. The incidences of kidney disease have skyrocketed in the United States and increase each year. The numbers of transplant surgeries stay relatively level at roughly 15,000 nationwide.
What specifically drew you to becoming a transplant doctor?
I wanted to be able to say that when I was done I made a significant difference in the individuals I looked after. Those I care for have serious chronic disorders — renal failure, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. All of these are reversible with transplant. Once the transplant is complete, the chronic illnesses are immediately gone and there is no more need for dialysis. There is an immediate change in the patient’s quality of life.
What are the key surgical or therapeutic breakthroughs that have helped transplant survival rates?
I have been practicing for 27 years and I never would have dreamed of the success we are having now. The surgery is just the beginning — then you need to give the patient medications to prevent them from ‘rejecting’ the organ. These drugs are potent and complicated. In terms of surgery, there have been some technical changes. It’s been more about the medication that we provide to prevent rejecting the organ. Years ago, 45 to 50 percent of patients had a rejection episode; now, only 8 percent of them do. Now, there is a 90 to 95 percent chance of the organ working.
What would surprise people the most when it comes to organ transplants?
People don’t realize the prevalence of kidney disease. In this country, almost 500,000 people are on dialysis. Diabetes, obesity, and hypertension kill your kidneys. Most people also don’t understand that those issues are asymptomatic for many years, but then they can turn into severe disorders. They also don’t realize the shortage of organs.
Most people don’t like to think about being a potential organ donor. What would you say to them to overcome their apprehension about this topic?
I would ask people to think about whether they want to be a donor when they pass. There’s no right or wrong answer to this. I tell people it’s the only way to keep a part of you alive after you pass, and to help someone else. If they do make the decision, they should tell their loved ones, so they know what their wishes are. You can also make your wish known by registering with an online organ donor registry, which is available in all states.