Chicago Organ Summit


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