David Klassen, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer, United Network for Organ Sharing
When the rapid spread of COVID-19 first shut down the nation in March, the organ donation and transplant community learned quickly how to protect vulnerable patients and their families, as well as the surgical teams performing the transplants. They did this essential work amid personal protective equipment shortages, limited COVID-19 testing, and a myriad of other obstacles — all the while continuing to save as many lives as possible.
Transplant professionals across the U.S. save more than 100 lives every day. Strong teamwork and innovation across the organ donation and transplant community make this success possible.
The decision to use a deceased patient’s organs to save lives must happen quickly. Across the nation, busy hospital staff have the responsibility of identifying potential donors and calling a local organ procurement organization (OPO) to let them know. Some OPOs, such as the Southwest Transplant Alliance in Texas, have developed technology that automates this process using the electronic health records of the hospitals and health systems they collaborate with. The goal is to speed up the process of finding donors and getting organs to the right patient.
Pooling resources can also save more lives. On the east coast, New England Donor Services — a partnership between two OPOs, LifeChoice Donor Services in Connecticut and New England Organ Bank in Massachusetts — is improving performance in the region by sharing resources that enable them to be even more effective. From 2016 to 2018, LifeChoice increased donors by 95 percent and transplants by 93 percent.
Over 100,000 Americans are on the organ transplant waiting list, so increasing the number of donations is a top priority. Organ procurement organizations have been able to increase the number of deceased donations significantly, with organ donations up 40 percent compared to eight years ago. As a result, 10,000 fewer patients were waiting their turns last year than in 2014.
We believe the best way to strengthen the world’s best organ donation and transplant system is to listen closely to what people in the field have to say about the improvements that are needed. Ultimately, we want every transplant patient to have a shorter wait time and better outcomes. We want more lifesaving donations and transplants each year. I know we can make it happen.