Physician Assistant and Post-Transplant Coordinator, Penn Transplant Institute

Mary Kaminski Physician Assistant and Post-Transplant Coordinator

"I basically run a boot camp for patients who’ve just had a kidney or pancreas transplant at Penn. I meet them in their hospital beds soon after they’re transplanted. They’re usually happy and overwhelmed at the same time. Because I’m responsible for their care for the next month, I tell them I’m their new best friend.

It can be hard to prepare patients for how different things will be after transplant. Once they leave the hospital, I’m there to guide them through their new routine. I see them in the clinic, review their results, call them constantly, adjust their medications, educate them on everything they need to know now that they finally received their transplant. One of the things I’ve learned over the years working in transplant is how to quickly read a patient when I first meet them. I can tell who needs more help, who is pretty independent, who needs me to be tough on them, and who needs me to hold their hand.

I’ve worked in transplant for most of my career.  Transplantation is special because it’s one of the few, if not the only, field in medicine that relies solely on a gift from the community. Surgeons, nurses, and hospitals...we’re all replaceable, but you can’t replace the deceased or living donor.  Knowing this keeps us grounded and also pushes us to make sure these organs and their recipients are well cared for.

Another aspect of transplant that I love is paired donation. That’s when you have living donors and recipients who aren’t compatible for transplant, but the donor of each pair is compatible with a different recipient.  I remember a woman whose son received a kidney from a living donor thought this process.  In exchange and as part of the paired exchange program, she donated one of her kidneys to someone else a few weeks later. She wasn’t obligated to do this by law; she could have backed out. But she said she wanted someone’s else’s mom to feel as happy as she was. I’ve never seen any donor back out, it’s remarkable to see this selfless act over and over again.

My part in a patient’s life is a relatively short one – 30 intense days after transplant. But it’s an important time. If I put them on the right track, they are very likely to go on and live a long, healthy life. That’s what we all wish for every one of our patients."

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