12 Things You Might Not Know About Organ Donation

The life-saving practice of organ transplantation has come a long way over the centuries. Today, more than 30,000 kidney, heart, lung, and other organ transplants happen each year.  Here are a few facts about the history and the current practice of organ donation.

1. THE FIRST ORGAN TRANSPLANT TOOK PLACE IN 800 BCE.

Skin, the body’s largest organ, was also the first to be transplanted. Researchers have found evidence that Indian doctors pioneered the use of skin grafts to repair injuries. In 500 BCE, a doctor named Sushruta performed the first rhinoplasty procedure by taking skin from a patient’s forehead and transplanting it to the nose.

2. A 16TH CENTURY ITALIAN SURGEON DISCOVERED ORGAN REJECTION.

Gaspare Tagliacozzi, a renowned physician at the University of Bologna, further refined Sushruta’s rhinoplasty procedure, refashioning the noses of maimed soldiers using skin from the inside of the arm. He also developed procedures to repair lips and ears using transplanted skin from a person’s own body. But when Tagliacozzi tried to graft skin from a different donor, the body would reject the transplant. His notes on organ rejection marked an early recognition of a problem that would stymie organ transplants for centuries to come.

3. IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY, DOCTORS TRANSPLANTED ANIMAL ORGANS TO HUMANS.

Going back as far as the 17th century, doctors transfused animal blood into humans. In the 19th century, animal-human skin grafts were quite popular, with frogs being the preferred species. By the 20th century, physicians were transplanting parts from rabbits, pigs, dogs, and other animals into human patients, none of whom lived more than a few days following their operations.

4. THE FIRST CORNEAL TRANSPLANT HAPPENED IN 1905.

Modern physicians still marvel at the procedure, undertaken by Austrian ophthalmologist Eduard Zirm. Using corneas taken from a child donor, Zirm successfully grafted them onto a 45-year-old farmworker, who had lost most of his eyesight in an accident. Zirm’s success is credited to sanitary conditions that were ahead of their time, and ophthalmologists today still use techniques that evolved from his original procedure.

5. CHARLES LINDBERGH CONTRIBUTED TO ORGAN TRANSPLANT TECHNOLOGY.

Known as a daring flyer, Lindbergh was also an accomplished mechanic who thrilled to an engineering challenge. After working for several years with transplant pioneer Dr. Alexis Carrel, in 1935 the two unveiled the perfusion pump, an intricate glass mechanism that could preserve organs outside the body. The invention landed the duo on the cover of Time magazine, though it ultimately proved too unreliable for physicians.

6. THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL KIDNEY TRANSPLANT TOOK PLACE IN 1954.

In the days before immunosuppressant drugs, transferred organs were almost uniformly rejected by their recipients. Then, in 1954, doctors in Boston were presented with an interesting case: Ronald Herrick, 23, had agreed to donate one of his kidneys to his identical twin brother, Richard, who was dying of kidney failure. The transplant was a success, with Richard living eight more years—far beyond the point anyone who had previously received a transplanted kidney had lived. Ronald, meanwhile, lived 56 more years, passing away in 2010.

7. IMMUNOSUPPRESSIVE DRUGS CHANGED THE GAME.

In 1960, immunologists Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet and Peter Medawar won the Nobel Prize for their work studying immunosuppression and organ transplant failure. This opened the door to the development of immunosuppressive drugs, which allowed doctors to transplant organs from non-identical donors. The next decade would see the world’s first successful lung, liver, pancreas, and heart transplants.

8. KIDNEYS ARE THE MOST COMMONLY TRANSPLANTED ORGAN.

More than 17,000 kidney transplants happen every year in America, according to the National Kidney Foundation, comprising more than half of all organ donations. After decades of developments, including better immunosuppressive drugs, kidney transplants are one of the most effective transplant procedures being practiced today. And yet, the donation rate only puts a dent in the more than 100,000 people waiting for kidney transplants each year.

9. DEMAND FOR DONATIONS GREATLY EXCEEDS SUPPLY.

Between 1991 and 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of organ transplants doubled from around 15,000 to more than 30,000 annually. However, the number of people awaiting organ donation grew almost sixfold, to nearly 120,000. This is partly due to changes in the donation listing and matching process, but health organizations note it’s also due to some harsh realities, including the fact that while 95 percent of U.S. adults support organ donation, just 48 percent are registered donors.

10. ONLY THREE IN 1000 DEATHS ARE ELIGIBLE FOR ORGAN DONATION.

Properly preserving a donor's organs requires optimal conditions, meaning that only a small percentage of deceased individuals are fit to donate. In most cases, donors experience brain death in a hospital and are stabilized while their organs are harvested. Thanks to medical advancements, more and more patients that experience cardiac death are now fit to donate.

11. MINUTES COUNT WHEN IT COMES TIME TO MAKE THE TRANSPLANT.

Because some organs can only be preserved for a few hours outside the body, every minute counts when making the transfer from donor to recipient. Donation organizations coordinate with flight crews, police, ambulances, and other entities to speed along precious organs. The New York Daily News recalled the recent journey a donor heart, which can last just four hours, made from New Hampshire to New York City. It involved a flight, a police escort, and an ambulance racing across the George Washington Bridge.

12. IN 2012, 60 PEOPLE TOOK PART IN A REMARKABLE DONATION CHAIN.

Call it a case of pay-it-forward on steroids. In 2012, a California electrician named Rick Ruzzamenti decided he wanted to donate a kidney to someone in need. The organ went to a man in New Jersey whose own family had wanted to donate but were found incompatible. After the man received Ruzzamenti’s kidney, family members were encouraged to themselves donate a kidney to someone in need, thus beginning a chain that connected donors with organ recipients and family members willing to donate in turn. The chain meandered along for four months, connecting 17 hospitals in 11 states. It ended at the thirtieth donation with a man named Don Terry in Joliet, Illinois.

Source: Mental Floss, Feb. 2017

Jaime Scholl
OPTN/UNOS Board Approves Updated Liver Distribution System

The OPTN/UNOS Board of Directors, at its meeting December 3, approved a new liver distribution policy to establish greater consistency in the geographic areas used to match liver transplant candidates with available organs from deceased donors and reduce geographic differences in liver transplant access.

The policy will replace fixed, irregular local and regional geographic boundaries historically used to match liver candidates based on the donor location. It initially prioritizes liver offers from most deceased adult donors in the following sequence:

  • Candidates with highest medical urgency (Status 1A and 1B) listed at transplant hospitals within a radius of 500 nautical miles of the donor hospital

  • Candidates with a MELD or PELD score of 37 or higher listed at transplant hospitals within a radius of 150 nautical miles from the donor hospital

  • Candidates with a MELD or PELD score of 37 or higher listed at transplant hospitals within a radius of 250 nautical miles from the donor hospital

  • Candidates with a MELD or PELD score of 37 or higher listed at transplant hospitals within a radius of 500 nautical miles from the donor hospital

  • A similar, continuing sequence of progressive offers (candidates at transplant hospitals within 150, 250 and 500 nautical miles of the donor hospital) for candidates with ranges of MELD or PELD scores from 33 to 36, from 29 to 32, and from 15 to 28

In addition, livers from deceased donors younger than age 18 will first be offered to any pediatric candidates (younger than age 18) listed at any transplant hospital within a 500 nautical-mile radius of the donor hospital. This will give additional priority to pediatric transplant candidates compared to the current distribution system.

Simulation modeling of the approved system indicates it will reduce variation in transplants by MELD score that exist in various areas of the country under the current liver distribution system. Modeling further suggests it will reduce pre-transplant deaths and increase access for liver transplant candidates younger than age 18.

Source: UNOS.org

Jaime Scholl
Finding Support While Waiting for a Transplant
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June 20, 2018 was a glorious day. My sister, brother in law, her three kids and spouses, along with my six great nieces and nephews were in Wisconsin at a cabin in Elkhorn. I had traveled little the past few years so that I would be within a four hour radius of the University of Wisconsin at Madison should a kidney be available. We spent the day in Whitewater with friends on the lake. The kids swam and enjoyed time fishing. We were out on the boat and the kids took turns on the Jet Ski with my niece’s husband. I was in heaven cuddling with the little ones as they came out of the water cold and shaking. Bundled in dry towels we snuggled together…

When we got back to the cabin around 7:00 for a late dinner, the little ones were going down for bed. My niece happened to check her phone and excitedly told me that there was a call for me on her cell phone from Madison. She read me the number which I immediately called. The transplant center had left a message on my phone, my other niece’s phone and my sister’s home phone fifty minutes earlier. We had missed them all! Once I was connected to the caller she asked me to stay on hold with her as she needed to contact my home town police as they had been sent to my house in one last attempt to contact me. She said this was her last call and then she would have gone on to the next person on the transplant list that was a match. My transplant took place the following day, June 21st, 2018.

I have dealt with CKD for ten years and I was on the transplant list for two and a half years. The last few weeks before the transplant I was having a great deal of difficulty walking. My next appointment with my local nephrologist was scheduled for July 2, 2018. While I may not have expressed it out loud, I realized the likelihood of dialysis was going to be discussed at that doctor’s appointment. My two kidneys were only operating at 9% and it was clear that one knee and the other ankle were being greatly affected by the toxins my body was no longer able to manage. The fluid buildup was possibly moving into gout and that was my next challenge. The turning point was when I was trying to walk from my car to my great niece’s softball game. I had no business attempting that outing and I stood there thinking if this is my life now, will I be able to do it?

The last two years in particular were difficult. The anxiety of waiting, dealing with limited activity due to being anemic and working to accept my new reality were all things I struggled with. I looked for a local support group that met monthly in the far west suburbs. I wanted a support group that was specific to chronic kidney disease. I checked all the local hospitals and roamed the internet. I belonged to OTS and appreciated the newsletters and Facebook page but I wasn’t attending the meetings. Once I was registered on the transplant list, realized dialysis was a real possibility and I knew I needed more support I thought perhaps it was time to attend a meeting.

My first OTS meeting was the September luncheon a few years ago. I attended by myself and was kindly welcomed by Carolyn Kutsy one of OTS’s members. Carolyn celebrated her 31st anniversary of her kidney transplant this past year! She was so welcoming suggesting I sit with her. She shared her phone number with me at that first luncheon before we left and would call periodically to check on me. I called her too with updates, both good and bad. We have enjoyed the September anniversary celebrations together the past three years. I am so grateful for her hospitality. I would encourage each of you to reach out to a new member or someone you don’t know at the next meeting.

In an effort to make this journey work for me, I knew I needed to find more avenues of support. I have a wonderful family and a large group of supportive friends but I needed contact with people working through kidney disease, specifically.  I did come across a Facebook page with over 10,000 members related to chronic kidney disease. Probably the most helpful “discovery” was the affirmation of the fact that, yes, there are lots of tired people out there. That tired feeling, lack of energy, need for a nap was indeed very normal. I was not alone.  Facebook:  Kidney Disease and Diet Ideas and Help.

Another resource that I relied on was Caring Bridge. This website allows you to reach out to family and friends as a way to keep them informed of your condition and changes along the way. The idea of explaining the situation over and over to each and every person was exhausting and somewhat defeating for me. I never minded if people asked questions but I didn’t want to have to retell everything all the time. This site was another source of support as people could respond on the Caring Bridge site or in some cases people chose to reach out with encouragement, prayers, or with cards, notes and emails.  www.caringbridge.org

No matter where you are at in your journey keep looking for resources specific to your needs. Create your path to support, keep your eyes open for ways to learn more and extend yourself to others who might just need that welcoming hello. Carolyn Kutsy surely did that for me.

 

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Jaime Scholl
OTS Receives Award From HSN Cares

OTS Recognized on National TV on April 26

Board President Carol Olash

Board President Carol Olash

HSN Cares, the philanthropic arm of the Home Shopping Network (HSN), is excited to announce that Organ Transplant Support, Inc., will receive an award of $1,000 as part of the annual $1,000 a day give-away campaign.  

HSN Cares selected Organ Transplant Support from a pool of hundreds of entries.  The entry from OTS was submitted by OTS President, Carol Olash.  Asked to submit a charity she is passionate about, Olash stated: 

“I was a very sick mother of an eight-year old son and I needed a heart transplant.  When I was introduced to Organ Transplant Support they answered all my questions and reassured me.  It has been 15 years since I received my new heart and I have found a wonderful group of transplant friends through OTS.”

In addition to receiving a check for $1,000 from HSN Cares, Organ Transplant Support will be recognized on HSN television on four different times during April 26, 2018.   HSN will announce Organ Transplant Support at these times on April 26:  1:00am, 6:00am, 1:00pm and 8:00pm, CST.  

Organ Transplant Support, Inc. sincerely thanks HSN Cares for this special recognition and award.  

Carol Olash
Chicago Organ Summit
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On March 8, the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network, local and state government officials and Chicago’s top experts from area transplant centers and hospitals came together to honor organ donors and discuss important issues and advancements made regarding organ donation in Chicago. Bill Kurtis, former CBS news anchor, served as the emcee for the Chicago Organ Summit.  Representatives from Chicago’s diverse transplant community, including all the transplant centers, UNOS, kidney and liver foundations, and Organ Transplant Support, Inc., also attended this summit.

The event kicked off with a special message from Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, who encouraged all Chicagoans to support organ and tissue donation. Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White, presented on the new Drive for Life law, which went into effect January 1, 2018 and allows 16- and 17-year-olds to now join the organ and tissue donor registry in Illinois.

At the 2017 Chicago Organ Summit, the transplant community made the collective commitment to transplant 2,000 organs a year by 2020.  Gift of Hope CEO Kevin Cmunt reported that there were a total of 1,273 total transplants from deceased organs performed in Illinois in 2017, and this number represents an increase of 28% in transplants during the last two years.  While the total number of transplants performed increased in 2017, the number of living donor transplants decreased slightly in the last year.   The focus of the 2018 Chicago Organ Summit was on living donation, and ways to increase these numbers.  Chicago Police Superintendent, Eddie Johnson underwent a very public kidney transplant in the fall of 2017. His son was his living donor. Johnson was joined on stage by the Chief of Police from the Toronto Police Department, Mark Saunders. Saunders also underwent a kidney transplant three months ago. His wife was his living donor. After sharing their parallel living donation stories, Johnson and Saunders encouraged everyone to support organ donation either by becoming a living donor or registering to become a donor.

Leaders from all seven transplant centers in Chicago participated in a panel discussion about living donation, which was moderated by Bill Kurtis. Discussion focused on improving legislation to help make living donation more accessible, increasing public awareness for living donation and the social and medical barriers currently associated with living donation.

A second panel discussion featuring community hospitals, focused on the role community hospitals play in the organ donation process. The conversation covered how these hospitals honor their diverse donor community and the barriers and challenges around donation and the resources needed to care for donor families. 

Kevin Cmunt concluded the summit by reminding everyone that there are currently over 4,600 people on the waiting list in Illinois for a life-saving organ.   The leaders of this summit want Chicago to become a national leader in the number of both deceased and living organs that are transplanted.   They are all working together to reach the goal of 2,000 organ transplants per year by 2020.

Carol Olash