Transplant recipients among UCSD medical success stories

UCSD School of Medicine is sharing its 40th anniversary milestone with the anniversary of the first kidney transplant.

One of the many success stories among the approximately 2,500 kidney transplants performed through UCSD is that of Rolando Arreola - whose transplant not only saved but transformed his life.

“When I first got sick I was young, 22, and a little rebellious,” admitted Arreola, who suffered from nephrosclerosis (hardening of the kidney) and was on dialysis for four years.

“I got on the list and after about one-and-a-half years I got a transplant. I was so impressed with the way (UCSD) treated me and their professional, caring people, that I decided I’d go back to school and go into the medical field.”

Singing praises

Arreola, formerly a construction worker, is now a radiologist who does CT scans and other diagnostic X-ray procedures. He strongly recommends UCSD’s medical approach to kidney treatment.

“The doctors there at the transplant center are always proactive, recommending methods and medications, for making your kidneys last longer,” he said.

“They’re not waiting for me to get sick before they change my medication.”

The solution for Arreola, and increasingly others like him, is kidney transplantation. To qualify, transplantees must observe to the letter a carefully prescribed set of rules, as well as get on a transplant waiting list.

‘It’s life-changing’

Donna Melnychenko, a Temecula librarian and one of many who have come from far and wide to have the procedure done through UCSD School of Medicine, is now in her 22nd year with a kidney she received in 1986. She said the procedure has allowed her to live a normal life.

“It was like night and day,” she said. “One moment you feel sick all the time, and then, almost overnight, you feel like a new person. It’s life-changing.”

After getting a transplanted kidney Melnychenko, like Arreola, went back to school and moved forward with her career.

Challenges remain

Robert Steiner, director of transplant nephrology at UCSD, said the procedure has come a long way in 40 years, but still has a ways to go.

“Transplantation replaces about 50 percent of kidney function, whereas dialysis replaces less than 10 percent,” he said.

The down side, Steiner said, is there are fairly potent side effects to the immuno-suppressant medication transplantees need to take to prevent their body from rejecting the donated organ.

But great strides in transplantation continue to be made. “We want these kidneys to survive 20, 25 years,” Steiner said.

Not only are donated kidneys lasting longer, it’s now possible for people to have more than one successfully donated kidney during their lifetime. Each successive transplant, however, becomes more difficult because of rejection factors.

Steiner talked about the long-term answer to solving problems and challenges - such as a pool of donors not growing as rapidly as demand - with kidney transplantation.

“Eventually, learning how to transplant animal kidneys is a potential breakthrough,” he said.