2023: A Year of Expansion & Prosperity

Mayra AlmendarezTransplant News

Written by Dr. Solaf Al Awadhi, Scientific Writer

We can’t believe we have only been in Houston, Texas together for 2 years. This year has been a year of expansion of staff, partnerships, and national policy leadership for the Patient Engagement Research Lab.  

This year Dr. Waterman welcomed seven wonderful new members to the lab, to expand her core amazing team of faculty, staff, and interns.  She acknowledges the team by saying, ‘You are a critical member of a team that stands for people who have less of a voice and those who are vulnerable and afraid.  These people need to be heard, to have information that empowers them, and for healthcare to be improved to better support them and improve their health.   On behalf of all those people who will benefit from what our Patient Engagement lab learns and improves, thank you.’   

Imory Jefferson, Research Coordinator and Active Research Leads, Laxmi Keerthi, and Alice Ojeaga, Clinical Research Specialists, were hired to launch a Survey Team. In only six months, they successfully contacted almost 4000 patients to invite them to participate in active research studies.  

Mayra Almendarez, Research Coordinator, and Community Engagement Manager have taken on the role of Public Face Lead to enhance our digital libraries of patient stories about kidney disease and transplant in Spanish. Additionally, she is working to build partnerships with patients and community leaders. With 15 years of experience at Houston Methodist Hospital, primarily engaging with patients, donors, and families in pursuit of transplant, Mayra shares her vision for the future: ‘My next step is to create a Patient Advisory Board where patients can share their experiences and guide researchers, clinicians, and other transplant patients through this journey.’ 

Dr. Solaf Al Awadhi joined as a Scientific Writer and is helping the team apply for new funding opportunities and publish their findings.  As a physician herself, she has already presented multiple research projects at national conferences as an active part of the research and writing team.  

Dr. Waterman continues to mentor young minds including Jung M. Jang, our biostatistical intern and graduate student.  She has also hired Shefali Patel to be part of her quantitative staff.   

We have also expanded partnerships inside and outside of Houston Methodist Hospital.  Within Houston Methodist Hospital, we began an exciting partnership to improve kidney health with Dr. Tariq Shafi, Head of the Division of Kidney Disease, Hypertension, & Transplantation. Regionally, we partnered with The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) to design community-facing activities to improve trust and community health.  We also launched a partnership with LifeGift, our local organ procurement organization, to build a regional consortium to study how best to utilize all donated organs.   

In partnership with Texas Southern University, University of Texas Health San Antonio, and University of Houston, we established a Texas Cardiometabolic & Kidney Disparities (TX-CKD) Consortium and won a federal grant to help patients across the state of Texas take preventive measures to reduce the need for transplants. We continued to partner with leaders of the Transplant Recipients’ International Organization (TRIO), a peer-to-peer transplant support organization. Internationally, Dr. Waterman represented the United States at the Santander Summit in Spain to align on federal policy recommendations to increase access to organ donation and protection of donors globally.  

Both Drs Amy Waterman and LaShara Davis end the year tired but triumphant, having won multiple federal grants, published journal articles in JAMA, and guided federal policy.  The entire team acknowledged each other at the end of the year, saying, ‘I’d like to acknowledge the team for powering through an incredibly challenging year of conducting two trials. Thank you for your commitment to the work and to ensuring that patients are getting access to education that can help them learn more about transplant and living donation. Each of you play a crucial role in your respective fields, and the success of this lab is a testament to the dedication of every team member.’   

We wish you a happy and prosperous year and look forward to continuing to innovate in 2024!