The first liver transplant performed in Sicily 20 years ago

It was a hot summer day when the first liver transplant in Sicily was performed at ISMETT. That day changed the course of Sicilian health care and gave new hope to patients suffering from end-stage organ failure.

Before ISMETT, there were no liver transplant centers in Sicily or in southern Italy. Patients and physicians had to choose between certain death and traveling to other Italian regions or even abroad. Up to 1999, the Region of Sicily was paying hundreds of billions of old Italian Liras to send Sicilian patients in need of a transplant and high specialization therapies to hospitals in Italy and abroad. On top of this, patients and their families had to endure major distresses, often not speaking the language of the host country. ISMETT drastically reduced the so-called “journeys of hope”, guaranteeing highly-specialized care to Sicilian patients in their own region.

Since July 1999, a total of 2,197 transplants have been performed at ISMETT, of which 1,227 were liver transplants (data updated at May 30, 2019). Last year, 8% of patients treated at ISMETT came from other Italian regions or abroad. Over the last 20 years, ISMETT has managed to reduce the journeys of hope, and to reverse their direction.

Born from an experimental management project and a partnership between public sector and a not-for-profit international partner, ISMETT is the first Italian hospital dedicated to solid organ transplants (liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and pancreas). ISMETT today has 114 beds, of which 20 in the intensive care unit and 10 for pediatric abdominal patients. Last year, there were 2,779 regular admissions and 1,585 OR procedures performed. ISMETT has 887 employees, equally distributed between women and men.

Since 2014, ISMETT is an institute for scientific-based care and treatment (IRCCS) in the area of end-stage organ failure treatment and research. At ISMETT, 786 articles have been published, 91 clinical trials conducted, and 22 are under evaluation. Thanks to numerous research projects, ISMETT has attracted in Sicily funds for €41,085,739 over the last twenty years.

In order to launch increasingly ambitious research projects, the Ri.MED Foundation entered the governance of ISMETT in June 2017. Ri.MED Foundation is based in Palermo, Sicily, and its goal is to directly or indirectly promote, support and conduct research projects and programs in the field of biotechnologies, with particular reference to the transferability of the outcomes in the area of biomedicine. The most ambitious project is the opening of the Biomedical Research and Biotechnology Center (BRBC) in Carini, near Palermo.

Future plans include the creation of the ISMETT-Ri.MED research cluster. A very important project, included in the 10-year agreement signed with the Region of Sicily in December 2018, is a new hospital to be built next to the BRBC, thus guaranteeing a full integration of physicians and researchers.

Timeline: 20 years of clinical activity (pdf)