Alumnus Joins Kidney Transplant Team

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On completing her fellowship training at Cleveland Clinic in 2014, Hannah Kerr, MD (U/RT’14) was given a rare and exciting opportunity to return to New Mexico, where she did her residency, to develop and lead a brand-new pancreas transplant program. While there, at Presbyterian Hospital, she also made medical history by performing New Mexico’s first-ever kidney/pancreas transplant. Now, Dr. Kerr is back at Cleveland Clinic as a member of the transplant team led by Alvin Wee, MD (U/RT’08), at the Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute’s Center for Renal and Pancreas Transplantation.

“My Cleveland Clinic fellowship really did prepare me to run a program and was a great place to learn,” Dr. Kerr says. “Some of the challenges I experienced in New Mexico included growing a transplant program in a medically underserved state, caring for patients with minimal resources. Very often, my patients had limited ability to afford medications and basic things like access to a car to come for their appointments, and sometimes even no access to running water. But it was so rewarding, and starting a pancreas transplant program was a unique experience. It took about two-and-a-half years to get it off the ground and running. We also really increased the volume of kidney transplants being performed in the state.”

In 2017, she performed New Mexico’s first kidney-pancreas transplant, followed by three more in the years after that. “Access to basic medical care there is so limited, let alone specialty care. We were transplanting sicker patients, a lot of them without the financial ability to easily care for themselves post-transplant, which is challenging,” Dr. Kerr says. “Yet, we had 100 percent graft and patient survival with our kidney/pancreas program. I really loved my patients and loved feeling like I was really making a difference. That was such an amazing experience!”

Still, she says, she missed her family back in her home state of Ohio, and her desire to be closer to them was amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. She is happy to be near them once again while also pursuing her passion for transplant surgery. That passion started during her medical training.

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“I was a urologist and really loved the kidney.” Dr. Kerr says. “It was my experience with kidney transplant during my residency that drew me to it. I think the physiology of the kidney is so fascinating, and there are medical and surgical aspects to taking care of kidney patients that make it so much more interesting. The physiology of the kidney I think really adds to the surgical experience and taking care of kidney patients.” Urologist and transplant surgeon Anthony Smith, MD, her program director and department chair during her residency at the University of New Mexico, was a very important role model and mentor, she says.

Her Cleveland Clinic training has been important in shaping her career, Dr. Kerr says. “I feel that my training prepared me for everything. I was the surgical director of a transplant program within a year of completing my fellowship. I felt that my experience with kidney cancer surgery as a fellow also prepared me to meet the needs of New Mexico for advanced renal cell carcinoma, which was another large part of my practice. My experience with laparoscopic kidney donation, kidney and pancreas transplant and kidney cancer surgery really prepared me to step into a large role so quickly after training.”

Dr. Kerr says that her mentors during her Cleveland Clinic training were Venkatesh Krishnamurthi, MD (S’94, U’99) her kidney and pancreas fellowship program director, and David Goldfarb, MD(U’90), who was the surgical director of the kidney transplant program. “Their surgical expertise and mentorship were invaluable,” she says. Now, in her current role, she is hoping to mentor others.

“I’m excited to be back and closer to my family,” Dr. Kerr says, “and I look forward to helping train residents and fellows and continue to grow, expand and improve our existing kidney and pancreas transplant program.”

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