California Organ Donation Charity Still On Track for Record-Setting Year Despite COVID-19 Upheavals

A leading California-based charity announced last week that it is on pace for a 15% increase in organ donations over last year’s record-setting numbers, despite the upheaval that COVID-19 has caused to the nation’s healthcare system.

The OneLegacy organization is the not-for-profit organ, eye, and tissue agency that serves the greater Southern California region, the largest independent donation region in the world.

In March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidelines that identified transplantation as a “Tier 3, High Acuity Surgery, Do Not Postpone” procedure. Since that time, OneLegacy has been working with its partner hospitals and transplant centers to assure the safety of donors and the many recipients waiting to receive their gift of life.

“Even during this unprecedented crisis, the lifesaving and essential purpose of organ and tissue donation and transplantation has gone on,” said OneLegacy CEO Tom Mone. “To donor hospitals and staff, donors and their families, recipients, and transplant colleagues, we owe a world of gratitude for their continued caring about our community and our world. Americans rally together in times of crisis, and the same generosity and caring that we see from organ donors will help us successfully confront the challenges posed by COVID-19.”

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In 2019, OneLegacy recovered a record number of 557 organ donors that resulted in the transplant of 1,619 organs. Overall, OneLegacy’s track record and growth in lifesaving organ donation has resulted in its deceased donor transplant rate currently being higher than any country in the world outside the United States. These numbers are achieved despite OneLegacy serving a very young and healthy community whose donor potential, as measured by community death rates, is only 75% of the U.S. average.

Nationwide, last year the United States was once again the world leader in deceased organ transplants (at 109 deceased donor transplants per million population), with 11,870 deceased donors accounting for nearly 36,000 transplants. This reflected a 10.7% increase in deceased donation over 2018, the ninth consecutive year of growth, and a 49% increase since 2010.

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Today, some 70% of people in the United States who can donate do so. Still, the need for transplants is growing far faster than potential donors. Currently more than 111,000 Americans are waiting to receive a lifesaving heart, liver, lung, kidney and/or pancreas.

While OneLegacy is seeing a record number of donations during the current pandemic, the achievement of these numbers has not been without challenge. Central among those has been the needs of transplant centers and donor hospitals to free up ICU beds, ventilators and staff for COVID-19 patients, all of which normally support organ donors. As such, OneLegacy made arrangements to transport organ donors to its Redlands Recovery Center, transfer donors to less-impacted facilities, and/or work with hospitals to recover organs more rapidly than usual in order to help free up ICU beds needed to care for COVID-19 patients.

A remaining challenge in increasing donation rates lies in the acceptance practices of transplant surgeons who Mone says have been shown to turn down as many as 3,500 kidneys per year. OneLegacy is currently working with the French surgeons who identified this opportunity and have pinpointed more than 200 kidneys that U.S. programs have declined and wasted while they wait for the “perfect” kidney.

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“OneLegacy doesn’t transplant organs, so we can’t solve this problem alone,” says Mone, “but with help from the French teams and our local transplant centers and teams, we hope to save hundreds more lives each year.”

Mone encourages every Southern Californian to choose to register to be an organ donor at the DMV and at the Donate Life California website and to explore the option to be a living donor for a friend or family member.

Representative feature photo by Lovestruck, CC

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