An Expert Look at the World of Organ Transplants
Education & Research A veteran executive in the organ transplant system offers an inside look at the challenges facing the medical community today.
Deciding to donate an organ is life-altering, both for the donor and the recipient. Rick Lofgren of the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) weighs in on the long road ahead for the world of organ transplants.
Finding a match
There’s a lot that goes into matching recipients and donors. Unfortunately, Lofgren says, there often aren’t enough donors, regardless of a recipient’s age.
“One of the things that we discovered over the years is that unfortunately the organ transplant world is a basic economic model of supply and demand, and because the demand is far exceeding the supply, it keeps the costs high and that’s why unfortunately many patients die waiting for a life-saving transplant.”
Matches are based on “tissue typing,” which looks at everything from blood types to shared ethnic backgrounds. Many children often receive donations from their parents, but these organs can sometimes be the wrong size for an infant or small child. Ultimately it depends on the donor’s and recipient’s health to see how long an organ will survive.
“In the end, the thing most needed is more people willing to donate organs, particularly from varied ethnic backgrounds.”
Although it’s hard to say specifically what causes a transplant to be successful or not, Lofgren says that living donation transplants tend to have a higher success rate. And in the 19 years he’s worked with COTA, Lofgren says that pediatric cases tend to do better overall.
“Our bodies as we get older don’t accept things that are foreign quite as well. … [Children] tend to be more resilient, their bodies are still adapting and still growing. And our pediatric cases tend to have a little bit higher survival rate because of that.”
Lofgren also notes a cultural gap: “One of the reasons that African-Americans tend to be disadvantaged in the transplant world is there are fewer African-American donors.” In the end, the thing most needed is more people willing to donate organs, particularly from varied ethnic backgrounds.