Facing the Challenges of Organ Transplantation
Every nine minutes in America, a person is added to the waiting list for an organ transplant. More than 106,000 patients are currently waiting for hearts, lungs, kidneys, and other tissues. Fortunately, thanks to the advanced medical education and technology available, over 800,000 people have had successful transplants in the last 30 years.
Organ transplant surgeries can take as little as three hours to perform, with patients leaving the hospital within days. The limitation to transplant surgeries is the organs themselves.
What Is Organ Matching and Who Gets an Organ First?
Matching a patient with a donor is a complex business. When an organ becomes available, finding a match begins. Doctors search the registers to find a patient that fits the important criteria that increases the chance of the transplant working.
Such criteria can include:
- The sizes of the organ and the recipient patient.
- If the blood type and other immune system markers match between organ and recipient.
- The recipient’s health and likelihood to survive. This includes how much of an increase in quality of life could occur after surgery.
- How long the recipient may live until they find an organ.
- If the organ can reach the recipient in time for it to remain viable.
This last criterion is often the big deciding factor, as the transport of organs for transplantation is not a simple task.
How Long Is an Organ Viable?
Organs do not last long outside of the body and can last even less if they are removed from someone already dead. Unfortunately, those organs most important to survival are also those that need to be transplanted quickly.
Some organs that can be transported for transplantation include:
- The heart, which is only viable for 4-6 hours.
- The kidney, which is no longer viable after 36 hours.
- The liver, which can survive for 12 hours.
These times are in the best-case scenario. For such organs to be viable, they must be transported in unique conditions, in carefully constructed packaging that may include equipment to ensure viability. The ideal temperature for organ storage is between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius, leaving little room for error. Some organs use special equipment called perfusion machines, which are complex to run and expensive to replace.
Problems When Transporting Organs
Research shows that organs that require long-distance transport, when arriving at the correct time, arejust as viable as those donated in the same area. However, this comes with risks.
While rare, it can occur that transporting organs can lead to failures. Between 2014 and 2019, over 500 organs faced transport problems, with more than a third leading to the organ becoming nonviable.
When every transport failure can lead to a loss of life, government and non-government organizations in charge of organ transplants do everything in their power to prevent them from doing so.
Regulations often prioritize patients that live closer to the donor, but that makes it harder to match organs to the recipients who need them most. Organ donor organizations that manage the matching and transport rely on technological advances to prevent delays and losses.
Mistakes still happen. In 2018, a heart bound for transplant was left on a plane undiscovered for hours, nearly leading to a loss of viability. In 2019, a kidney was left off a flight by a cargo worker unaware of the critical time frame. It had to be rushed via car and made it to the patient with only 46 minutes to spare.
How LandAirSea Is Helping Save Lives
LifeShare, the nonprofit procurement organization that helps patients find organs, wanted to make sure stories such as those above never happened to them. They called upon us at LandAirSea to develop a technological solution that protects their organs during transport.
Prior to working with us, transport would include multiple phone calls between dispatchers and drivers, and they often faced problems in communication and record-keeping.
Today, these same teams can follow the organ throughout the transport process using GPS tracking technology. A link is given to receiving physicians, which they can use on any ordinary computer. This allows doctors to view on an ordinary browser where the organ is and when it will arrive. This information is encrypted to ensure security, and the trip is automatically recorded for LifeShare’s records.
“LifeShare is always working to facilitate best practices in organ donation,” says Jeffrey Orlowski, CEO of LifeShare. “We have not had an issue with an organ being lost in transit, [however,] because LifeShare believes that [we are] stewards of such a precious gift, we can never be too safe in making sure the donated organs are delivered as intended.”
LandAirSea is proud to partner with the medical professionals across Oklahoma in this endeavor and continues to look for opportunities to help save lives. We have a range of telemetric solutions that can be tailored to unique circumstances as faced by procurement organizations around the country. Contact us today to find out how we can help your organization.