A New Hampshire woman's kidney transplant reflects the advances Mass General has made in the field during the past five decades.

In 2015, Mary Anne Gauthier of Nashua, New Hampshire, received a series of devastating diagnoses. The retired professor of nursing, who taught at Northeastern University and ran its undergraduate nursing program for nearly two decades, knew something was wrong. “My joints continually ached at first, so I went to the doctor who referred me to a rheumatologist,” says Gauthier. “But as the symptoms increased I knew it was more than arthritis. Something was seriously wrong.”

Mass General is the only site in the New England region to have performed this many kidney transplant surgeries.

After a round of tests under the supervision of Southern New Hampshire Medical Center (SNHMC), results revealed Gauthier was experiencing granulomatosis with polyangiitis – a relatively rare disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels, particularly within the kidneys. Additionally, Gauthier was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome, an equally rare autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to mistakenly make antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. Now in full renal failure, and under the care of Massachusetts General Hospital, the Goodpasture diagnosis meant Gauthier would not be eligible for kidney transplantation until the antibody that attacked her kidneys was eliminated through the use of immunosuppression medications.

“The upside my doctors told me was that I was still a good candidate for a transplant because I was, overall, healthy,” Gauthier says. “MGH tried to keep me positive by noting this complication wouldn’t prolong my wait more than a few extra months, but that still meant dialysis and an indefinite wait for something which may never come.”

High Kidney Transplant Survival Rates

Despite the uncertainty, earlier this month Gauthier received a kidney. The surgery marked the 3,000th kidney transplant the MGH Adult Kidney Transplant Program in the Transplant Center has performed. Mass General is the only site in the New England region to have performed this many kidney transplant surgeries.

“Cases like Mary Anne’s demonstrate the advances the MGH has made in kidney transplantation in more than five decades,” said Nahel Elias, MD, surgical director of the MGH Kidney Transplantation program, who performed Gauthier’s transplant. “Our relentless commitment to research and surgical excellence – coupled with collaborations through referring regional medical centers such as SNHMC – render positive outcomes to complicated diagnoses, as is the case here.”

“This reflects the valuable teamwork and talent of our present group of transplant physicians.”

The Adult Kidney Transplant Program has achieved some of the best patient survival rates in the country. In 2015, 36 percent of patients receiving kidney transplants at the hospital never needed a single dialysis treatment prior to transplant, which is more than twice the national average. Additionally, the program has made great strides in transplant tolerance research, allowing some patients to live drug-free after transplant.

“When I started doing kidney transplants at the MGH in 1963, we were glad when a patient could go home in a month,” says Paul S. Russell, MD, John Homans Distinguished Professor of Surgery and first physician to perform a kidney transplant at the MGH. “Additionally, the chance for survival of transplants, for a year, was about 20 percent. Our 3,000th recipient went home in three days and will have about a 95 percent chance of retaining the transplant in a year. This reflects the valuable teamwork and talent of our present group of transplant physicians.”

This story first appeared in MGH Hotline.