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Study: Donated Livers, Hearts Are Going To Waste

June 3, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ Nearly half of all donated hearts and livers obtained by a New York hospital are going to waste rather than helping to save lives, a study shows, alarming experts who say the pattern could be widespread.

″We should try in every way that we can to seek a remedy″ to the inefficiency and inadequate resources causing the problem, said Dr. Carl Andrus, a transplant surgeon at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The research by Andrus and others at the medical center was to be presented today at the American Society of Transplant Surgeons’ annual meeting.

In their paper, the researchers said that most families, when approached properly, agree to donate a loved one’s organs. So it’s especially painful when organs that could be put to good use are buried instead.

About 475 people are awaiting liver transplants in the United States, while nearly 900 others await new hearts, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

″There is a problem from time to time with placing good hearts and livers,″ acknowledged Dr. John McDonald, president of the transplant surgeons’ society and immediate past president of the network.

No statistics are available regarding the number of organs that are donated but go unused in this country each year. Some doctors questioned whether as many as half of all donated hearts and livers are being wasted.

″That figure seems high,″ said Dr. Robert J. Corry, a University of Iowa transplant surgeon.

The University of Rochester Organ Procurement Program began its study about a year ago after experiencing considerable difficulty placing donated livers and hearts elsewhere. The medical center only transplanted kidneys.

The researchers tracked all organs donated through the Rochester program from January 1985 to October 1987, when a new scoring system for allocating transplant organs became mandatory for members of the organ network.

In nearly three years, 74 of the 203 brain-dead patients referred to the program proved medically suitable, Richard Kruk, an organ procurement coordinator at the center, said Thursday.

Relatives of the 74, were approached about the possibility of organ donation, leading to consent for the donation of 68 kidneys, 55 livers and 44 hearts.

Sixty-three kidneys were found to be suitable fo a transplant, as were 40 livers and 42 hearts, Kruk said.

All 63 kidneys were transplanted, but just 20 livers and 23 hearts were used, the study found.

Kruk said he and others in the organ procurement program made 411 phone calls to try to place the 39 unused hearts and livers, which were never removed from donors’ bodies.

Many calls were unsuccessful because of inaccurate listings of potential recipients in national computer systems, including the one now run by the transplant network. Some information was outdated.

″We’d be told there was a desperate need for a heart in Cleveland, so we’d call Cleveland and be told, ’Oh no, he was transplanted this morning,‴ said Sueanne Paprocki, an organ procurement coordinator in Rochester.

Some transplant centers said they preferred waiting for a locally obtained donor, while others said they didn’t think the organs suited their needs. Still others said they didn’t have a team available to retrieve the organs or that there wasn’t room in the intensive-care unit.

In many cases nationally, there are not enough transplant teams, McDonald said. ″It’s possible for a team to be so exhausted from previous work that it would be unwise for them to undertake another graft.″

Kruk said the toughest job was telling families their loved ones’ organs couldn’t be used.

″Because the spirit of organ donation is altruistic, because the next of kin are making a decision for the common good, you don’t wan’t to lead them to believe the common good isn’t being served,″ Kruk said. ″It’s only that it could be better served.″

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