As Originally First Published in Mega Doctor News newsprint edition
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi has long been the South Texas leader in pediatric kidney care. The pediatric nephrology services began in 1999, dialysis services in 2004, and the first renal transplant in 2007. The recent grand opening of Driscoll Children’s Valley Dialysis Center on July 9, 2014, extends these unique and specialized services to the Rio Grande Valley. Pediatric patients now will receive the same specialized, high-quality care right here in the Valley without having to travel elsewhere.
During this event, Mega Doctor News had an exclusive interview with Dr. Patrick Stephen Almond, Surgical Director of Driscoll Children’s Hospital Renal Transplant Program and Department Chair of Surgery for Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Dr. Almond was here to be part of the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Driscoll Children’s Valley Dialysis Center. He is one of 35 pediatric subspecialists in a multispecialty group all related to the care of children. He is certified by the American Board of Surgery in both general and pediatric surgery. He has been a surgeon for almost twenty years performing hundreds of kidney transplants, and 75 in Corpus Christi.
When kidneys fail, there are three-treatment choices: hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis or kidney transplantation.
Many people feel that a successful kidney transplant provides a better quality of life because it may mean greater freedom, more energy and a less strict diet.
According to National Kidney Foundation statistics, as of May 21, 2014, there were 122,737 patients waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. Of these 100,602 are waiting for a kidney transplant, and about nine percent of these are children. The organization reported that last year; 14,029-kidney transplants took place in the U.S.; 9,314-kidney transplants from deceased donors and 4,715-from living donors.
One of Dr. Almond’s main concerns is avoiding complications. “A good surgeon always thinks and anticipates any potential complication. After every procedure you run through your mind the procedure, any potential and possible complications and you worry about them until you see that patient again and make sure they are well,” he said.
He said that the follow-up visits after the procedures are very important. “Most patients follow-up with their doctor, but you’ll find that an occasional patient may not,” he stated. For him, that’s a concern. So what is your expectation with the Driscoll Children’s Valley Dialysis Center? “What I would like to see happen is for the dialysis unit to flourish.” He also stated, “The reason is that transplantation is the treatment of choice for patients with renal failure. Dialysis is a treatment option until a kidney becomes available.”
He pointed out that growth in the dialysis would lead to growth in the renal transplant program. He stated, “This would probably be a short-term goal for the Valley unit. I would say the next goal would be other organs transplanted, that may be a goal for the next generation, there is a huge need.”
What is the range of the children’s ages for those possibilities? “The Driscoll Children’s Hospital will treat children up until the age of twenty-one. We would estimate from a population base of somewhere between two and three million that will come up to about twenty-six renal failure patients a year. You could see very quickly that this place will be very busy. While not all of those patients will need a transplant, a significant number of them will.” Dr. Almond estimates the new unit may lead to an additional thirteen to fifteen renal transplants per year.
How is it that you ended up in Texas? “I’ll give you the short story. I was a practicing pediatric transplant surgeon in Chicago. In January of 2003, a headhunter called me looking for a pediatric surgeon to come to South Texas. I said thank you, but no thank you. About a month later I got a phone call from another headhunter, and he said he was looking for a transplant surgeon for South Texas. I asked, what company are you working for because I just got a call about a month ago for the same area of the country. After a brief conversation with him, we realized it was the same hospital recruiting for two different surgeons. Driscoll needed a pediatric surgeon and they wanted to start a new renal transplant program. We arranged an interview, I came down, brought my wife for a second interview and she said lets do it.”
How do you feel since you made the move to Texas? “It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done. No question about it, both personally and professionally. To put it bluntly a lot of the things that you would want to do or achieve, can’t be done in most places because someone else has already accomplished those things. In Chicago, there are eight or ten transplant programs. By comparison South Texas did not have a single one. We would be the first-transplant program in South Texas,” he said.
Dr. Almond and his wife, Suzanne have four children, and they were used to the big city life. They had never experienced a more rural lifestyle, and they’ve loved it here. He stated, “My wife Suzanne and I are both from the south, I’m from Florida and she’s from Alabama. The two lifestyles are different.”
Initially the children wanted to go back and see their friends. For this reason Dr. Almond and his wife would take the children back to visit their old neighborhood and friends. But after two or three years, they stopped asking to go back. He stated, “They’ve become involved here. They have developed their own friends and if you asked them now to compare the two lifestyles, they are very glad that we moved to South Texas.”
The Almonds moved to Texas while the children were in elementary and junior high schools. Now, Ashley is twenty-four, Katy twenty-two, Patrick twenty-one and Amanda nineteen years old. “My last child graduated last year, she’s just finished her first year at the University of Texas. Patrick is a junior at UTSA, and he plans on going into a medical career.”
How did you meet your wife? “I was a medical student at the University of Florida, and she was in Mobile, Alabama. She got accepted to the graduate nursing program at the University of Florida and we met there.”
Dr. Almond has always known that he wanted to be a surgeon. When did you realize that you wanted to be a doctor? “I don’t know. My parents aren’t physicians, but I knew I wanted to be a doctor,” he said.
What do you do to get the stress out of you? “We live on a twenty-acre ranch in the city of Corpus Christi. On it, we care for 35 goats, 4 cows, and 10 horses. If I blindfolded you and put you on a helicopter or drove you to my house and you got out, you would not know where you are because it’s so rural,” he said. Suzanne teases Dr. Almond that he works around the ranch to relieve his work stress.
When they first bought the property they got it cleared and put in about two thousand linear feet of fencing. Dr. Almond put in each fence post and cross piece and installed a watering system that waters the whole place. The place came with a barn, and they built an apartment in the second story of the barn. He said, “That’s what I mean when I say I like to build things.” He continued, “It’s like helping Driscoll build their surgical programs. When I came here, we had one pediatric surgeon; now we have three. We also have a pediatric urologist, a pediatric Otolaryngologist, and we are hiring three more surgeons; another Pediatric ENT, a Pediatric urologist and a Pediatric surgeon. Today we have a transplant program, trauma program and a bariatric program. As I said, I like to build things.”
What brings you the most satisfaction in your life in this career? “It’s seeing a child come in who is unhealthy, doing an operation and seeing them get well. Most kids don’t like being sick. If you can remove the illness with an operation, they get well very rapidly.”
Dr. Almond said that one of the biggest challenges in moving to South Texas was learning Spanish, and he learned it. The second challenge was the geography “We travel from Corpus Christi to the Valley Clinics to see patients because it is challenging for many of them and their families to travel to Corpus Christi.”
If you could change the past what would you do differently? “I might have moved to South Texas sooner,” he said smiling.
From 1980 to 1997, Dr. Almond did his undergraduate and medical school at the University of Florida, his general surgery at the University of Minnesota. “I did my pediatric surgery at the university of Chicago and my transplant training at Northwestern and Children’s Memorial.”
How do you want to be remembered when you leave this earth? “Professionally I would like to be thought of as compassionate, caring and responsive to the patients.”
Mega Doctor News selected Dr. Patrick Stephen Almond as our Mega Doctor of this month because he is a caring and compassionate professional. He provides a very delicate and life-saving service to the general community of children. Dr. Almond provides his knowledge and his skills to get the best outcome possible. MDN
Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner, and the 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient.