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Avera Transplant Institute 

Avera Campus
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
Phone: (866) 686-1062
Fax: (605) 322-7351

Avera Transplant Institute Team

The Avera Transplant Institute uses a sophisticated team approach. Our team includes specialist physicians, an experienced nursing staff, and a variety of medical and support professionals to help meet your physical, emotional and spiritual needs.


Transplant Physicians

Our dedicated team of transplant physicians specializes in kidney, pancreas and bone marrow transplants. Our team includes transplant nephrologists for kidney and pancreas patients and hematology specialists for bone marrow transplant patients.

Bashar Abdulkarim, MD, PhD, FACS

Ali Al-Hajjaj, MD

Jeffery Steers, MD, FACS

Robert N. Santella, MD, FACP

Kelly McCaul, MD, ABIM, FRCPC

Christopher Auvenshine, DO

Victor Scott, MD, FACP

Julie Ann T. Linatoc, MD

Ahmed Galal, MD, FRCPC, MSc

Vinod Parameswaran, MD, FRCPath, MRCP(UK)

Midlevel Providers

Transplant Midlevel Providers

The Avera Transplant Institute's Midlevel Providers bring expertise in specialty care. The BMT Certified Nurse Practitioners are tenured in oncology practice and provide depth and support to the physician transplant team. The SOT Physician's Assistant is involved in all aspects of patient care, both outpatient and inpatient. He completes minor surgery and assists in the operating room for vascular surgery, kidney and pancreas transplantation.

Click on a name below to view a detailed profile.

Ancillary Team

Other physicians and transplant experts who work with the Transplant Institute include:

  • Pulmonary Medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Infectious Disease
  • Pathology
  • Radiology, interventional radiology, radiation oncology
  • Endocrinology


Transplant Coordinators - Bone Marrow Transplant

Our coordinators arrange for and follows patients' transplant care in concert with the patient and multi-disciplinary team members throughout all transplant phases across a continuum of care including various inpatient and outpatient settings.

Once referred to transplant, the Coordinator meets with the transplant physicians and patient to develop the transplant calendar of events, delineating care from transplant evaluation of the recipient, search and evaluation of donors (if applicable), to pre-transplant mobilization and cell collection, to transplant infusion, to post-transplant follow-up.

  • Nicole Nelson, RN
  • Sarah Schuster, RN
  • Jalisa Spittler, RN
  • Patti Swenson, RN
  • Megan Timmer, RN
  • Bethannie Vermeer, RN

Transplant Coordinators - Solid Organ Transplant

Once referred to transplant, the Coordinator is available to each transplant patient every step of the way from initial referral from the patient, physician, or dialysis unit through post-transplant follow-up. Coordinators also assist in initial contact with the patient, transplant evaluation, evaluation of potential living donors, coordinating with the national organ transplant wait-list, ongoing wait-list health status monitoring, and transplant surgery.

  • Erin Arends, RN
  • Tessa Benson, RN
  • Jenna Bunde, RN
  • Brenda Larsgaard, RN
  • Janet Mellema, RN
  • Sarah Missal, RN
  • Holly Perli, RN
  • Brandon Varilek, RN
  • Rebecca Wahle, RN

Transplant Outpatient Nurses

Nurses in the outpatient setting assist patients with Hematology and Nephrology physician exam visits, medication transfusion, and dialysis as needed for the patient's underlying disease leading up to, and following transplant.

Transplant Inpatient Nurses

Nurses with specialized preparation in transplantation care for the transplant recipients and donors day in and day out throughout the hospital transplant stay. These nurses also provide care to transplant patients for any hospital stays needed before transplantation for their underlying disease management, or after transplantation for monitoring or adjustment of post-transplant care.

Inpatient nurses are also specialized in apheresis procedures to collect cells and provide therapy for transplant patients. Inpatient nurses have specialty certifications in transplantation and oncology.

  • Karen Miller, RN, OCN – Manager, Transplant Oncology Services
  • Heather Hubble, RN - Supervisor, Transplant Oncology Services
  • Lola Twedt, RN, OCN – Clinical Nurse Educator BMT
  • Kris Carlson, RN - Apheresis Coordinator

Other Professionals

Administrative Personnel

  • Beth Plahn, RN, BA, MHA, Director of Transplant Services
  • Jack Schoolcraft, Transplant Contract Manager
  • Leslie Cooper, Manager-Organ Transplant
  • Jameson McGrann, Quality Manager-Solid Organ Transplant
  • Rochelle Rentschler, RN, BSN, OCN Quality Manager-Bone Marrow Transplant
  • Lacey Roberts, RN, OCN, Manager-Bone Marrow Transplant

Clinical Laboratory Staff

Clinical laboratory staff perform necessary testing to ensure Bone Marrow compatibility as well as perform testing to assist in the support and followup of BMT recipients. Additionally, the Clinical Laboratory staff is responsible for the processing, counting and preservation of the stem cells used in the bone marrow transplant.

Chaplain Staff

  • Laurel Buwalda, MDiv Rev.

Diabetes Nurses

Diabetes Nurses assess the transplant patient's diabetes self-care regimen and provide education as needed before, during and after transplant.

  • Mary Lobb Oyos, RN, MS, BC-ADM, CDE


Dietitians assess nutritional intake, provide counseling, and implement nutritional treatment plans prior to, during, and after the transplant hospital stay.

  • Jessica Muth, out-patient dietitian

Operating Room Staff

Operating room staff assist surgeons who, through collaboration with the oncologists, implant the appropriate infusion catheters/ports to facilitate the infusion of the appropriate medication needed to combat a variety of diseases. The operating room staff are also trained in marrow collection procedures.

Patient Advocates

Transplant patient advocates evaluate insurance eligibility and benefits and assist with gaining payor approval for transplantation at Avera Transplant Institute. Advocates also coordinate with others to facilitate resolution of insurance processing.

  • Amber Fitzgerald, Transplant Reimbursement Coordinator


Transplant pharmacists ensure appropriate use of transplant-related medications in the hospital and outpatient settings. Pharmacists also provide oversight and assist patients in learning about individual patient medications and schedules.

  • Brad Beck, Clinical Pharmacist
  • Carol Breitkreutz, Clinical Pharmacist
  • Tobin Klinkhammer, Clinical Pharmacist
  • Lisa Lange, Clinical Pharmacist

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists evaluate the patient's musculoskeletal concerns and endurance. Therapy is available at the bedside, outpatient setting, or home as determined by the physician.


Transplant psychologists are designated to consult for transplant recipient and donor evaluation of ability and needs to sustain transplantation. Psychologists are also accessible for family and staff consultation.

Quality and Data Specialists

Transplant data specialists collect and report required transplant outcomes data to regulatory organizations including the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry and United Network for Organ Sharing. This data is compiled with data from transplant programs world-wide to analyze the benefits and opportunities for improvement of transplant care.

Bone Marrow Transplant

  • Rochelle Rentschler, Quality Manager
  • Lisa Hansen, Data Specialist

Organ Transplant

  • Jameson McGrann, Quality Manager
  • Vicky Gannon, Data Specialist

    Social Workers

    Transplant social workers are masters-prepared to perform psychosocial assessment, and assist with adjustments of transplant and donor candidates prior to and throughout all phases of transplantation. Transplant social workers also provide support to persons undergoing transplantation by identifying and facilitating application for transplant funding, medication funding after hospital discharge, and identifying and coordinating with services providers after transplant. Support groups and newsletters are also facilitated by transplant Social Workers.

    • Brandy Bunkers, CSW-PIP, Organ Transplant
    • Joseph "Rich" Goraj, MSW, Solid Organ Transplant/Living Donor
    • Sarah Johns, MSW, Organ Transplant
    • Melanie Hericks, MSW, Bone Marrow Transplant

      Support Personnel

      Transplant support personnel support transplant operations by receiving and coordinating correspondence and obtaining necessary information for the multidisciplinary team to care for transplant patients and donors.