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What would become a life-long journey in transplantation for the Schuster family began in 1978 with one word: “perfect.”
Doctors told Mark that he was a perfect match in blood and tissue types to be a kidney donor for his younger brother Scott, a 21-year-old senior at Tufts University. Scott was quickly losing kidney function due to hereditary nephritis.
And so, without hesitation, Mark decided to donate his kidney. “I just couldn’t image Scott any other way than he was before this happened,” he said.
The brothers underwent the operations at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital on Scott’s winter break from Tufts. Their experience post-transplant was far from perfect, but it gave the entire Schuster family an intricate familiarity with the ups and downs of the procedure—the bouts of rejection, the effects of the immunosuppressant medications, and yet, the renewed quality of life it could ultimately provide the recipient.
Since that time, Mark, Scott and their parents, Gerald and Elaine, have sought to make the experience a more perfect one for the generations of kidney transplant patients to come. Most recently, the Schuster family’s leadership and philanthropy in transplantation and kidney disease has enabled BWH to establish an innovative new clinic for kidney and pancreas transplant patients.
Designed to support the goal of making every transplant a success that lasts a lifetime, the Schuster Transplant Center provides a single-day, pre-transplant evaluation clinic with multidisciplinary staff. This approach alleviates the stress of making multiple trips to the hospital, can reduce a patient’s time to transplant listing and provides the structure to support collaboration and communication among caregivers, patients and their families.
“This would not have been possible without the vision of the Schusters,” said Stefan G. Tullius, MD, PhD, FACS, co-director of the center, at a celebration this week in honor of the family.
Hospital leaders and donors were joined by Mayor Thomas M. Menino in expressing gratitude to the Schusters at the Nov. 2 event in the Cabot Atrium. “This is a family that keeps giving back,” Menino said. “They are unwavering champions of the most vulnerable populations.”
A previous gift from Gerald and Elaine Schuster in 2004 helped to establish the Schuster Family Transplantation Research Center at BWH and Children’s Hospital. Dedicated to enhancing patients’ safety and long-term success, specialists there study transplantation immunobiology and stem cell biology.
BWH has been a leader in transplantation since 1954 when the world’s first human organ transplant was performed here. The success of this surgery paved the way for the future of organ transplantation, and surgical advancements have improved outcomes immensely since that time.
“As we have seen improving outcomes immediately following transplantation, our focus has switched to longer term outcomes,” said Anil Chandraker, MD, FASN, FRCP, co-director of the Schuster Transplant Center. “Patients can suffer adverse effects of immunosuppression in the long-term, which can cause infections and increase susceptibility to cancer. Through scientific discovery, we are striving to monitor and modify the effects of immunosuppression to improve outcomes.”
The future of transplantation relies both on advances in science and the incredible generosity of organ donors. Currently, there are more than 112,700 people on the waiting list for organs, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
“Getting donors is an enormous challenge,” Scott Schuster said. “The organ donors, like my brother Mark, are the real heroes to do something so selflessly for others.”
Mark Schuster offers another point of view. “Perhaps ‘hero’ is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “Scott went through so much with his disease, the transplant and the effects of the medications. But he said, ‘I can do this,’ and he got married, had three great kids, started a business and has a better golf handicap than me. He took full advantage of his life and his health in the face of adversity. That, to me, is a hero.”