128 and counting – CAMC celebrates record-breaking year for kidney transplants

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A celebration was held at Charleston Area Medical Center’s (CAMC) General Hospital on Wednesday, to commemorate the 128 successful kidney transplants performed in 2023. Doctors, staff, donors, and transplant recipients released 128 balloons in front of the hospital – one for each transplant completed during the record-breaking year. 

“CAMC Kidney Transplant was the first kidney transplant program in West Virginia,” CAMC’s Kidney Transplant Administrator Alice Jones told RealWV during the celebration. As of 2024, Jones has been a part of The kidney transplant program at CAMC for 22 years. 

“We started out in 1987, and that year we did seven transplants,” Jones said. “We’ve continued to grow, and 128 (in 2023) was the most that we’ve ever done.”

Since the program’s inception some 37-years ago, Jones added, a total of 1,784 kidney transplants have been performed through CAMC. 

“Our patients are more than a patient to us, they’re more than a number,” Jones said. “They’re a person – they’re like our families. Getting to celebrate this today, knowing these people who are like family members, whose lives we’ve improved and made it better and easier for them to get out and enjoy [their lives].”

Family, it seems, was the theme of the celebration. On-hand for the festivities were sisters Susan Pinkston and Donna Grass, as well as their brother, Ken Pinkston. Susan’s kidney was one of those successfully transplanted at CAMC last year. 

Siblings Donna Grass, Ken Pinkston, and Susan Pinkston. Ken donated his kidney to Donna in 2001. Susan received her kidney in December, 2023. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

“I was waiting for a year-and-a-half,” Susan said. “I was evaluated at four different (kidney) centers, but I’d only been on the list here (CAMC) for two months. The other centers all told me four-to-seven years.”

In 2023, the CAMC Kidney Transplant Center was ranked second-best in the nation for transplant wait times by the Scientific Registry for Transplant Recipients. CAMC patients receive a kidney transplant on average of within six-to-eight months, whereas the national average wait time is between five and seven years. 

Much like her sister, Donna was also the recipient of a life-saving kidney transplant at CAMC in 2001. Ken was Donna’s donor.

“I have been truly blessed,” Donna said. “Life is great. He (Kenny) gave me my life back.”

Both women – Donna at 23 years and Susan at two-and-a-half months – are doing exceptionally well since their transplant was performed. And while Susan’s donor was deceased, Kenny is still very much alive and healthy.

“The donor process was very easy,” Kenny said. “It didn’t affect my lifestyle at all. I would encourage anyone to donate.”

Ken’s words were echoed by Alice Jones.

“Spreading the word” about organ donation, Jones noted, is a vital component to the program’s success, adding that, “None of this would have happened if someone hadn’t signed that card to be an organ donor.”

“Family members who, when they’re going through tragedy, they’re faced with a decision,” Jones said. “And they choose to give life.”

CAMC is ranked as a Best Regional Hospital and High Performing Hospital for treatment of kidney failure for 2023-2024 by U.S. News & World Report.


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