Wisconsin a good place to wait for organ
Donor levels top national goal, report says
"You don't really have a choice," the doctors told Schilke. "You are going to need a transplant."
In Wisconsin, hundreds of people are confronted with this news every year. And they are confronted with a question: when will an organ be available?
Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers reviewed data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to see how Wisconsin's organ waiting lists and donor levels compare with other states.
The review indicates that Wisconsin has fewer people waiting for an organ than some similar-sized states, and donation levels here beat a national target goal. But dozens of people still die in Wisconsin each year waiting for an organ, and officials are working to boost organ donations.
Currently, 1,608 people are waiting for a transplant at a Wisconsin transplant center. That's fewer than two states with similar population. Minnesota has 2,589 people waiting for a transplant. Maryland has 2,080 people waiting for transplant.
Nationally, 107,337 people are waiting for a transplant.
California has the state's longest list, with 20,670 people waiting for a transplant, followed by Texas, with 10,056 people waiting. At the other end of the spectrum is Vermont, with 109 people waiting for a transplant.
"(Wisconsin) generally does better than other states," said Jay Campbell, vice president of the Wisconsin Donor Network, which serves 12 counties in southeast Wisconsin. "The OPOs (Organ Procurement Organizations) have been very successful particularly in the last four years in a couple of ways. They have been successful in the volume of organ donors they have been able to locate and they have been successful in the percentage of people who say yes to organ donation when they are asked at the time of death."
Those numbers are extremely high when compared with the country.
Nationally, OPOs have a "conversion rate" goal of 75 percent. The conversion rate is the percent of eligible donors who actually donate organs.
Last year, the University of Wisconsin OPO had a conversion rate of 87.7 percent. The Wisconsin Donor Network had a conversion rate of 77.8 percent.
"Wisconsin is a good place to be when it comes to supply and demand," Campbell said. "Nonetheless, there's no way to meet the need. People die all the time who are waiting for an organ in Wisconsin, as well as the rest of the country.
"We are always battling against a situation where we can't meet the need and we can't save every live of every person waiting for a transplant."
Last year, 93 people in Wisconsin died waiting for a transplant.
Campbell said that even if everybody said yes to organ donation, people would still die because only a limited number of people can become an organ donor. Most organs come from someone who has experienced brain death and is being supported in a hospital on a ventilator.
"Nationally, we believe there are only 14,000 cases of brain death … it's not an inexhaustible supply," Campbell said.
Efforts continue in Wisconsin to boost organ donation rates.
On April 1, Wisconsin launched a new online donor registry. Since April 1, some 15,000 people have signed up at www.yesiwillwisconsin.com. People can easily sign up to ensure their loved ones know their wishes.
Martha Mallon, president of Donate Life Wisconsin, said similar efforts have proved successful in other states and it could help reduce the wait for organs in Wisconsin.
"That's definitely our hope, that the waiting list will get shorter," she said.
Schilke calls himself lucky. He was told by doctors he would have to wait a month for a donor liver, but one was available within days. He had a blood type that happened to be the same as a lot of available livers at the time.
And two years later, he's living with his transplant, working as the managing pharmacist at Shopko Express in Appleton.
Schilke has some advice for people who would consider being an organ donor.
"Make sure that other people know you want to be a donor is the most important thing," he said. "You may want to, but if you need (to tell) the people around you…they are still the ones signing off on it"
THIS SITUATION DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A REALITY IF EVERYONE SIGNS UP TO BE AN ORGAN, EYE AND TISSUE DONATION. THE OPPORTUNITY FOR ORGAN DONATION IS VARY RARE AS DESCRIBED IN A PREVIOUSLY REPORTED STORY ON THE GREEN BAY PRESS GAZETTE. Organ donation is 'very rare opportunity'