Tough odds for patients with organ allocation in Midwest - KCTV5

Tough odds for patients with organ allocation in Midwest

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“I'm going to see my granddaughter graduate in a week. I’ll get to see her get married. I got to marry my youngest daughter a few months ago,” Joe Hendricks said. (Benfield Photography) “I'm going to see my granddaughter graduate in a week. I’ll get to see her get married. I got to marry my youngest daughter a few months ago,” Joe Hendricks said. (Benfield Photography)
Doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital have been issuing a similar warning. They say under regional sharing programs, their liver transplant program has taken a hit. (KCTV5) Doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital have been issuing a similar warning. They say under regional sharing programs, their liver transplant program has taken a hit. (KCTV5)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

A new study highlights what doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital have been warning.

If you are poor, a minority or live more than 50 miles from your hospital, your chances of survival, if you need a liver transplant, are not good.

The study is in response to a new public policy where communities share needed livers and ship them around the country. The sickest matching patient in a regional area gets the donated liver. But many doctors have been sounding the alarm that some communities win and others lose.

“My concern is it doesn’t fix the underlying problem that we don't have enough organ donors. So, we have the same piece of pie we are cutting it different ways,” said Dr. Ryan Taylor, a hepatologist with the University of Kansas Hospital.

A new study backs those claims. Researchers at Emory University crunched years of data looking at how long people waited under the new program, who was saved and who died.

“The issue of need for liver transplant is more complex than just the time spent waiting for a liver, or even the MELD score at which people are getting transplanted. You have to take into account death on the wait list,” said Dr. Ray Lynch, who did the research.

Lynch says organ sharing programs greatly help people in large cities with high populations, like New York. But people in rural communities, poor people and minorities were adversely affected.

“The paradox is that the areas with the highest scores necessary for transplant aren’t the same as the areas where more of the patients die while awaiting a transplant. So, need and ability to survive have to be better evaluated than we currently are doing," Lynch said.

Doctors at the University of Kansas Hospital have been issuing a similar warning. They say under regional sharing programs, their liver transplant program has taken a hit.

“It's the most tragic thing you have patient with hope and anticipation that they will get a liver and then they get sicker and they miss that opportunity it's so tragic it's so difficult. We hate that part of our job,” Taylor said.

The harsh reality is 17,000 people are on the liver transplant list in the United States. There are more recipients in need of help than donors. Every year, people die while waiting. Other people become too sick for surgery and they are removed from transplant lists and they die too.

Patients are grateful

Joe Hendricks says he’s so grateful for organ donation.

Hendricks is from a small community outside of the Joplin area. He recently had a liver transplant due to liver cancer meaning he defied the odds shown by that new study.

“I'm going to see my granddaughter graduate in a week. I’ll get to see her get married. I got to marry my youngest daughter a few months ago. I haven't seen her baby yet. I think she's going to have a baby someday,” he said.

Hendricks says he was stunned when he first heard he needed a transplant.

He focused his energy and efforts on simply surviving cancer and then surgery. He understands very little about regional sharing programs and the complex medical debate.

He’s simply grateful for his second chance.

The grandfather of five answered questions then broke down in tears discussing how his liver donation affected his entire family.

“There's really no way to express my family's gratitude to that donor and his family. You know, I’m thankful. Now, I get to see the rest of the story," he said.

Copyright 2017 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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