The 2022 Chair of the Board of Directors for the Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance, Ana Hands, MD, the vice president of International Health Services and Transplant Services at Ochsner Health in New Orleans, has a passion for transplant and displays a love for thinking, planning, and innovation that makes her the perfect leader.
Hands says The Alliance’s board is extremely dedicated and talented and in 2022 will focus on implementing the first year of a three-year strategic plan to guide The Alliance’s vision to be a catalyst for bold advancements that save lives. “It will be an exciting year for The Alliance,” says Hands. “We have created a foundation for where we want The Alliance to be and I’m looking forward to implementing our strategies in 2022. The bold goals that we have means that we’re really moving and I’m excited to be a part of it because it’s something I truly believe in. We have great things that we want to do, and we have great support from the Board, The Alliance team, and our partners.”
There’s no doubt about Hands’ commitment to The Alliance. A favorite story that illustrates her commitment is when she jumped off a Mardi Gras float in 2020 to conduct a Zoom interview of now Executive Director Karri Hobson-Pape, for whom she served on the search committee. She became involved in The Alliance at the urging of Helen Bottenfield, an Alliance founder and executive director from 2008-2013, whom she met at a National Learning Congress in 2007.
“The way I look at The Alliance is that it’s the place where you have the biggest collection of information for anything transplant-related,” says Hands. “Whether you’re in the OPO world or you’re on the transplant program side, the number of resources that we have in The Alliance is amazing. We bring everybody together and The Alliance is where people come to get the information they need. We work together, we share experiences, we share ideas, and we grow together.”
Hands grew up in Venezuela and earned undergraduate degrees at the University of Monterrey in Mexico and then attended medical school at the University Zulia in Venezuela. She came to the U.S. in 1985 to complete her training in psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia.
In 2005 she took on leadership of international health services at Ochsner, Hands says she is the ‘relationship builder.’ “We work with foreign governments or foreign university medical schools to establish relationships,” says Hands. “We have exchanges of faculty and students and we have visiting professors and observers, in addition to international patients.” A 2019 article in Viva NOLA magazine profiled three Latin American leaders at Ochsner and noted that Hands received the New Orleans City Business Health Care Hero award for her work on integrating Hispanic immigrants with optimal patient care in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Hands also has a personal love of travel, and in either her professional or personal roles has been to almost all continents.
Path from Practicing Psychiatrist to Transplant Administrator
The constraints of practicing psychiatry in managed care drove Hands to make a career change after 20 years as a clinical psychiatrist. In 2005, she joined Ochsner Health as the vice president of International Health Services.
It was during her travels to Puerto Rico with Dr. George Loss, Chief of Ochsner’s Multi-Organ Transplant Institute, to make connections with doctors and see liver transplant patients that Loss convinced Hands to take on a dual role and become the transplant services administrator in addition to her role in international health. “I was already working with the transplant team because we had a couple of international patients that had come in for transplants and I had become close with the transplant team, especially the Liver Group,” says Hands. “So, I said yes, let me go ahead and do it.”
Passionate about Transplant
Hands threw herself into learning about transplantation. She attended a National Learning Congress on organ donation and transplantation and by the next year was on the faculty. For many years, Ochsner was the largest liver transplant program in the country and remains in the top 10 nationally. “I made it my mission to learn transplant, to understand transplant from the administrative perspective,” says Hands, “but the medical side of me does not allow me to completely detach. I’m not just a transplant administrator. I don’t do surgeries because I’m not qualified but I would love to; that’s how involved I want to be.”
“I went all-in on transplantation and to this day believe it is the best decision I made in my life,” says Hands. “It’s brought me so much joy and fulfillment. I love Happy Endings and we have a lot of Happy Endings in transplant. The fact that we can give people hope and that we try really, really hard to give hope, that’s the part I love. I don’t feel that we’re God almighty, that we give life, but we do give a chance for life. And I’m very fortunate with our transplant team of about 140 people that every single person in the group has the same enthusiasm, the same investment.”
“I’m not halfway about anything, I go all the way, or I don’t do it.”
Her Farm is Another Passion
Hands spends most weekends on her farm, an hour outside New Orleans. “I have 60 or 70 animals on the farm, and they are all my pets. I have rescue horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, dogs, cats and Luca, my pet pig. But all of the animals have names.”
Hands also plays the guitar and sings.
Close Family Ties
She is one of four children in a close-knit family. “We talk every day, and we live in different parts of the world,” says Hands. “I talk to my mom every day who’s in Miami with one of my sisters. I have a sister who lives in Kuwait, and I have one here in New Orleans. On my way home from work. I call the family and that’s how we catch up. So, I am very close, very Latin close to the family.” Hands said her mother set her on the path to be a doctor. “Growing up, my mother was a very strong Latin mother. I can remember her saying I was going to be a doctor; she decided that very early on. But that’s all I could hear, and I was fine with it. I really enjoyed medical school.”
“I am one hundred percent advocate for everything that has to do with organ donation and transplantation.”