Second chances

Thousands await new organs; how the system works

February 13, 2008


Second Chances

Three Lawrence families share one common bond they encourage others to be organ and tissue donors. This 3-part series explores the life-changing nature of organ donations.

On the street

Are you an organ donor?

Yes, although I haven’t donated one yet. But I would donate one if I wasn’t using it.

More responses

Every day, an average of 17 people die because of a lack of available organs for transplant.

As of Feb. 8, there were 105,102 people across the nation waiting for organ transplants. Of those, 373 were from Kansas.

"There is a much lower rate of organ donation in the U.S. compared to other countries," said Dr. Ramsey Hachem, pulmonologist at Barnes Jewish Hospital, a world-renowned transplant center in St. Louis.

To become a donor, it's essential to notify your family.

"The most important thing, really, is to talk to your family about the donation because even when you put it on your driver's license, at the time of death, someone is going to talk to your next of kin to make sure that it is OK for that donation to happen," said Jan Finn, chief operations officer for the Midwest Transplant Network. "So it is really critical that your loved ones know."

The network is the federally certified Organ Procurement Organization for Kansas and the western half of Missouri. It is responsible for taking all of the calls or referrals of patients when they die in a hospital and screening them to determine whether they are eligible to donate. It also is responsible for recovering the organs and tissues and finding appropriate matches.

Finn said patients in need of organs are listed through a transplant center. There are two in Kansas: Via Christi St. Francis Hospital in Wichita and Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.

Those patients are then put into a national network that produces a priority list of potential organ recipients based on criteria that include blood type, tissue type, size of organ, medical urgency of patient, time on the waiting list, and distance between donor and recipient.

According to United Network for Organ Sharing, often the top-ranked patient may not get an organ for one of several reasons, including:

¢ He or she can't be located or can't reach the hospital in time for a transplant.

¢ He or she is temporarily too sick to receive a transplant.

¢ The medical team believes the organ would not benefit the candidate due to the donor's age or medical condition.

¢ Medical tests performed after the initial offer show the candidate's immune system likely would reject the organ.

In 2007, the Midwest Transplant Network had 195 organ donors and close to 600 transplants from those donors. It also had about 700 tissue donors.

Tissue donations include items such as corneas, skin, bones and connective tissue. Lawrence Memorial Hospital was recognized by Midwest Transplant Network for its donation rate - 55 percent of those eligible donated, which is higher than the national goal of 35 percent.

"We are required by law to report each death to Midwest Transplant Network for screening for possible tissue donation," said Melynda Swoyer, clinical educator for the Intensive Care Unit and Cardiovascular Services at LMH.

If the deceased does qualify for a donation, Swoyer said LMH has a team of about 20 people who are trained to approach families.

"We try to educate the families and offer them that opportunity for tissue donation and it's totally up to them," she said. "If the family either wishes for that patient to be a donor or declines that, we respect that."

LMH will have an open house April 29 when people can learn more about tissue and organ donation.


Confrontation 10 years, 2 months ago

People who don't want their usable organs donated (end of life) are completely selfish. Why do you need them once your life is over? If you don't let another human have them, then the only purpose for them is bug food or cremation ignition. Families who don't allow donation of healthy organs are also selfish.

daveundis 10 years, 2 months ago

About 50% of the organs transplanted in America go to people who haven't agreed to donate their own organs when they die. As long as we let non-donors jump to the front of the waiting list if they need a transplant we'll always have an organ shortage.

There is a simple way to put a big dent in the organ shortage -- give organs first to people who have agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. People who aren't willing to share the gift of life should go to the back of the waiting list as long as there is a shortage of organs.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition.

simplykristib 10 years, 2 months ago

My oldest brother has kidney disease and needs a kidney transplant in the not-so-distant future. He's on the list. After he told us he needed a kidney transplant, I immediately added my name to the list of people wanted to donate organs upon my death. My family knows my wishes. I hope that they will honor my wishes if my organs are suitable for transplant. Don't hesitate... Register to become an organ donor today! It's simple and easy.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.