When an organ donor dies in the Mid-South Transplant Foundation’s geographic territory, hospitals are able to procure an average of 4.24 organs per donor.
That’s the No. 1 rate in the nation for the number of organs transplanted per healthy donor by the United Network for Organ Sharing.
The results were released in the organization’s most recent quarterly report. The report also ranked the Mid-South Transplant Foundation as the No. 1 organ procurement organization in the U.S. for the percentage of African-American donors in 2012.
“We have great relationships with the hospitals,” said Wendy Garrison, a manager of organ recovery at the Mid-South Transplant Foundation. “It’s not only our staff, but having the hospitals fully on-board to help us.”
The time between when a patient begins to die and when that same patient is declared brain-dead can be critical. Organ donation abides by a paradox: a person has to be declared dead before any organs can be removed, but the organs must be alive to be transferred to a living recipient. Usually, that means an organ donor dies in a hospital on life support, and those deaths represent only a small portion of deaths in the U.S. Once patients are declared brain-dead, the organs quickly begin to deteriorate and become unfit for transplantation.
“If they aren’t managed correctly up until that time, you are very limited,” said Ken Sellers, the medical director of the Mid-South Transplant Foundation. “The body starts to shut down very rapidly in the process of brain death.”
Because of those factors, the Mid-South Transplant Foundation and other federally designated organ procurement organizations work closely with hospital staffs to teach best practices for managing dying patients who have opted to donate their organs. Organ procurement organizations are nonprofit organizations responsible for evaluating and procuring organs for transplantation in live patients.
Each organ procurement organization spans a geographic territory, which are designated by the federal government. There are currently 58 in the U.S. The Mid-South Transplant Foundation serves West Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi.
Sellers says the overall health of a donor and the donor’s age also can influence the number of organs that can be procured and transplanted. But even organs from relatively healthy donors can’t be used if the patients aren’t properly managed when they are dying.
Usually, the organ transplantation team has less than 24 hours from when a patient dies to procure the organs and then transplant them in a living recipient.
“There are very critical time elements,” Sellers said. “A heart may only have four to six hours.”
Because of those time elements, the Mid-South Transplant Foundation works closely with hospitals, but also with the public to increase awareness and participation in the organ donation process.
To raise local awareness, The Mid-South Transplant Foundation is holding its Annual Linking Hands for Life Event on April 21 to celebrate National Donate Life Month. The celebration will be held at Memphis’ Levitt Shell inside Overton Park, and will include a concert featuring David Parks, a native Memphian who was on the MTV show “Making His Band.”
“We need to spread the word that donation changes lives every day; however, many more lives need to be affected, especially in the Mid-South,” said Erskine Gillespie, community development coordinator for the Mid-South Transplant Foundation. “Many are saved, but many continue to suffer.”
The Memphis region is No. 1 for hypertension, obesity and diabetes in the state of Tennessee. Those factors contribute to a high rate of kidney disease in the area. Kidneys are the most-waited for organ in Memphis and elsewhere in the nation.