Woman weeks away from new kidney in limbo after Memorial Hermann shuts down transplant program

Kellie Clark was just weeks away from getting a long-awaited kidney transplant when Memorial Herman made a shocking announcement. 

"So close. Like insanely close. It was like a bad joke. I didn't believe it," she said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Memorial Hermann's Texas Medical Center liver transplant program inactivated

She didn't get a call or an email. She saw an article online saying that Memorial Hermann inactivated their liver and kidney transplant programs. 

"It was devastating. It was just gut-wrenching. We had been waiting and so hopeful," she said. 

Clark was diagnosed with a kidney disease at age 11 and has been battling it all her life. A few years ago, it took a turn for the worse. She started dialysis and got on Memorial Hermann's liver transplant wait list. 

After many tests, days and dialysis treatments, she found out her best friend was a match. Finally, all they had to do was wait for the call to schedule surgery. 

"I put so much into this other program at Memorial Hermann it was a waste almost," she said. 

The call never came, the announcement did instead. Memorial Hermann said in a statement they inactivated their liver transplant program due to irregularities with their donor acceptance criteria. 

The full statement is as follows: 

Memorial Hermann is dedicated to the health and well-being of every person we serve and takes seriously our commitment to patient safety. We have voluntarily inactivated the liver transplant program at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center due to notification of a pattern of irregularities with donor acceptance criteria within the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) transplant information database for patients awaiting a liver transplant. Memorial Hermann’s investigation is ongoing, and we continue to cooperate fully with all regulatory oversight agencies. We have confirmed that the irregularities were limited to the liver transplant program and did not impact any other transplant program.  However, because there is a shared leadership structure over both the liver and kidney transplant programs, we have made the very difficult decision to voluntarily inactivate the kidney transplant program as we evaluated a new physician leadership structure. We are working with all impacted patients and families from both the liver and the kidney transplant programs to ensure that they have the care and support that they need. Our primary commitment has always been to provide quality care to our patients, and it is with that in mind that we have made this difficult decision.

FOX 26 Houston is now on the FOX LOCAL app available through Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Roku, Google Android TV, and Vizio!

"It's a little scary, like what if I had gone through their program, something was going on, and I was affected by that," said Clark. 

FOX 26 reached out to Memorial Herman with several questions around these "irregularities," how many patients are affected, and what might happen to the patients who are on the waitlist. They have yet to respond. 

Clark says she was referred to Houston Methodist, who confirmed they are helping some of the patients. 

They released the following statement:

"Houston Methodist has one of the largest transplant programs in the country and has the capacity to accommodate additional patients needing liver and kidney transplants. We are committed to helping in any way we can be sure those listed for transplant get the proper care and support they need at this time. Houston Methodist has 1,244 kidney transplant patients on our list now, and we are committed to providing a smooth transition for additional patients in the process of getting a living donor kidney. We also have received a few calls from liver patients and we are actively working to get them into the program now."

While Clark is very grateful she has a donor, she says the life expectancy after starting dialysis is about five years.

 "The clock is ticking, I feel. Even a few more dialysis treatments is a big deal."

She encourages patients in her shoes to be proactive and call their transplant coordinator. 

"Be patient. We will get a transplant. That's what I believe for all of us," she said. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is investigating. They released the statement below:

"At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we acknowledge the severity of this allegation. We are working across the Department to address this matter now. We are committed to protecting patient safety and equitable access to organ transplant services for all patients. We are working diligently to address this issue with the attention it deserves, including work at the Health Resources and  Services Administration (HRSA) through the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) – which are deploying on site to investigate. Working with our federal and state partners, HHS will pursue all appropriate enforcement and compliance actions to the fullest extent available under relevant regulations and policies to protect the safety and integrity of the organ procurement and transplantation system."