Rolf N. Barth, M.D., is an associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a transplant surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
Dr. Barth has worked tirelessly to extend the benefits of minimally invasive surgery to the real heroes of kidney transplantation -- living donors who decide to give a kidney to someone in need. Dr. Barth initiated a technique at the University of Maryland Medical Center, which is the least invasive method to remove a donor kidney. The kidney is delivered through the donor's belly button in what is essentially a scarless operation. The very small incision is contained within the belly button and the donor comes out of the surgery with just a Band-Aid. Patients go home after a day or two and within weeks there is almost no physical evidence of the gift the donor has given.
"Many of our advances in organ transplantation have focused on the recipients of life-saving kidney, pancreas, and liver transplantation. This technique is unique in that it benefits the donors of these life-saving organ transplants. I believe this is the future of organ donation, and we are pleased to offer this procedure," says Dr. Barth. "It is another way we can say thanks to the very special people who are organ donors."
The first kidney donor at the Medical Center to undergo the single-port kidney removal through the navel has high praise for the advance. "It's neat. I came out of surgery with just a Band-Aid," says Kristen McLoughlin of Madison Heights, Va. "It's a breakthrough for future donors and will make it easier for them."
McLoughlin says Dr. Barth discussed the possibility of the belly button procedure if everything went well, but she didn't know for sure until the surgery was over.
"Dr. Barth has been wonderful through the whole thing," McLoughlin says.
Minimally invasive laparoscopic removal of donor kidneys has become routine over the last decade; however, this procedure still required four separate openings in the abdomen to insert a camera and instruments, as well as a four-inch incision to remove the kidney. The single-incision approach utilizes only the belly button for all instruments and camera to perform the same technique and remove the kidney as conventional laparoscopic surgery.
In April 2009, Dr. Barth and colleagues at University of Maryland began to remove donor kidneys through an opening in the navel, becoming the first hospital in Maryland and only the third hospital in the United States to use this approach. Since then, over 100 of these single-incision surgeries have been performed at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Last fall, transplant surgeons completed a four-way kidney exchange involving eight patients from four states. All four of the living donors had a kidney removed through the belly button, the first time that the technique was used in a multiple kidney exchange. The innovative technique has been the new standard of care for all kidney donors at University of Maryland Medical Center.
Statistics from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network show the need for kidney donors is great; nearly 88,000 people were on the kidney transplant waiting list at the beginning of January 2011. Dr. Barth's work has not only helped advance the technique of kidney transplantation but it has also made it even easier for donors to follow through on their commitment to give the gift of life.