health with monifa thomas | Chicago SunTimes
Faced with a growing shortage of organ donors, the state of Illinois’ organ-procurement organization will soon launch a major reorganization of the way deceased-donor organs are removed for transplantation.
The aim: to increase the number of organs that can be used for potentially life-saving transplants by minimizing delays in organ removal, decreasing organ storage times and improving the coordination of transplant surgeries.
Now, organ donors in Illinois who have been declared brain dead have their organs removed at the hospital where they died. The organs are then kept in cold storage until they can be transplanted.
But organ removal is often delayed because transplant teams sometimes have to wait as long as 10 or 12 hours for an operating room in a busy trauma center to become available.
So the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network — the nonprofit organization that coordinates organ donation in Illinois and Indiana — is switching to “in-house organ recovery.” Starting in March, brain-dead donors who die at Rush University Medical Center, Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and seven other Chicago area hospitals will be taken by ambulance to Gift of Hope’s new headquarters in Itasca to have their organs removed. From there, the organs would go to recipients throughout the state. Gift of Hope administrators expect more hospitals will be added to the program.
“The mere fact that you could reduce cold-storage times, you’re more apt to be able to use organs from less-than-ideal donors,” said Dr. Martin Jendrisak, Gift of Hope’s medical director. “It maximizes the gift.”
Jendrisak helped launch a similar initiative in St. Louis that he says resulted in more organs per donor being recovered and lower per-patient surgical costs.
Family members must consent to having their loved one transferred to Itasca, even if they are already registered organ donors. If the family refuses, the donor’s organs would be removed in the hospital where they died.
Finding ways to “maximize the gift” has become increasingly important as the number of Americans in need of organ transplants continues to outstrip the supply of donors. More than 110,000 Americans are on the national transplant waiting list, including more than 4,800 in Illinois. Last year, Gift of Hope coordinated 800 transplants from 260 donors, spokesman Dave Bosch said. An average of 18 Americans a day die while awaiting a transplant.
Gift of Hope spent $400,000 to set up its new northwest suburban headquarters for 24-hour organ and tissue procurement.
Dr. Deepak Mital, director of the kidney transplant program at Christ Medical Center, said the switch to in-house recovery will be an improvement over having to wait, as usually happens now, until midnight or 2 a.m. to start the organ-removal process. “Everything works out well, but it’s not ideal,” he said, citing low staffing levels in the operating room and fatigue.
Having a dedicated center for organ procurement “ensures the ability to schedule these cases in a timely manner, under ideal circumstances,” Mital said.