Doctor leads skilled team at Transplant Institute in Memphis

By Joe Birch - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis can now boast of being home to one of the top organ transplant centers in the world. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' top secret transplant at Methodist University Hospital in 2009 helped bring this lifesaving Memphis expertise into worldwide focus.

But day in and day out, ordinary people living in the Mid-South are gaining a new lease on life at the Transplant Institute at Methodist University Hospital.

Mike Hearington had a liver transplant October 17th.

"My care was exceptional," he said. "All your folks, everybody on the staff, did an exceptional job."

The Memphian walked out of Methodist University Hospital's Transplant Institute six days later. That's not uncommon, according to Dr. James Eason, who leads a team of health professionals at the hospital that's intensely focused on caring for transplant patients.

"People still think of transplants as this 'end of the world' type doomsday scenario and honestly, most of our patients are like this: they're in and out of here in a week, or they spend one or two days in the intensive care unit," Eason said.

Eason grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, and went to medical school in Memphis. After training at Harvard and in the U.S. Air Force, he was ultimately swept back to Memphis by Hurricane Katrina. At the time the storm struck New Orleans, Eason was leading another hospital's transplant team.

"I lived in the hospital for three months after Katrina, and this job became available," he said. "I started working here April first, 2006. I was April Fool that year."

A partnership between the University of Tennessee and Methodist University Hospital gave Eason the power to hire the best.

"To really create a dream team," he said. "I've recruited what I consider the top transplant physicians from all over the country and world."

Together, they created a "hospital within a hospital" on floors reserved exclusively for transplant patients, where icons like Steve Jobs and regular people like Mike Hearington recover.

"This year we're probably going to be one of the five largest programs in the United States, and one of the ten largest liver transplant programs in the world," he said.

The dramatic growth has major names in American medicine taking notice. In fact, top doctors at some of our country's most prestigious hospitals send their transplant candidates to Memphis!

According to Eason, transplantation has become the treatment of choice for certain liver cancers.

Mike Hearington is one of the lucky ones; a significant number of gravely ill transplant candidates come here and hang on, hoping for a donor organ.

"About 25 percent of them will be here in the intensive care unit, maybe on life support, with maybe days or hours to live waiting," Eason said.

"Fortunately, I wasn't in that shape," Hearington added.

Eason's team does all the pediatric transplants at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital as well, sometimes taking a donor organ from a parent at Methodist University Hospital and driving it across the medical center to transplant into a child at Le Bonheur.

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