KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Organ donation isn’t something many of us worry about unless we or a loved one get very sick, but the rules could soon change for how livers are matched with patients.
Local surgeons warn it will have devastating consequences for our area and local transplant programs.
“We could see upwards of a 40 percent decrease in transplant numbers in our region and that means patients could have to wait twice as long as they do now,” said Dr. Tim Schmitt with the University of Kansas Medical Center transplant program.
Surgeons at the University of Kansas say they are already seeing the effects of sharing. While sharing sounds great on the surface, the hospital warns the numbers tell a very different story. A once growing liver transplant program which eventually performed more than 100 surgeries a year began shrinking when sharing started.
That’s because different communities donate organs at different rates.
Our area is very good. So, when we share with other communities we have a net loss.
As a general rule, Midwestern communities have stronger donation rates than communities along the east and west coast. When transplant centers debate what is fair, the debate quickly becomes if organs should stay near donor communities or be spread throughout a large region.
“I don’t think the general population would be okay if they, all of the sudden their organs were being treated as just a resource or commodity,” Schmitt said.
Currently, there are more than 14,000 people are currently waiting for a liver across the United States according to the American Liver Foundation.
Many will die waiting.
Last year, seven patients died on the University of Kansas waiting list. Eleven other patients became too sick for a transplant so they were removed from the list. So, 18 people in our area died waiting for a liver.
Allisun Thomasson, 28, is one of the lucky ones who received a transplant.
“If I would have had to keep waiting, I wouldn’t have made it. I probably would have died. I was very very sick,” Thomasson said.
Her parents agree saying doctors warned them time was running out.
“He would look at me and say ‘she can’t go much longer. Something has to happen,’” Allisun's mother, Rebecca Thomasson, said.
Local surgeons say all transplant centers struggle with donations.
Moving current donations around won’t solve a nationwide problem of supply.
Surgeons compare it to rearranging chairs on the sinking Titanic. They want efforts focused on donations not distribution.
“It’s heartbreaking watching someone go through all the efforts to get themselves on the list and they’re very hopeful and their family is hopeful and then their time runs out,” said Dr. Sean Kumer, transplant surgeon with the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Plans for sharing
UNOS is the governing board for organ allocation.
Different organs have different rules. There is a push to move away from regional sharing and move towards sharing circles drawn around transplant centers.
Matching donated livers with patients is a complicated process. It involves blood type, liver size, and how sick a patient is.
Location is also a factor; livers are now stared regionally.
There are currently 11 regions across the United States.
Region 8 includes Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Lawsuits have been filed regarding new plans for sharing. Some transplant centers want more sharing. Others feel sharing only masks the real problem and communities who work hard to encourage donations won’t see the benefits.
“I don’t think the general population would be okay if all of the sudden their organs were being treated as just a resource or commodity,” Schmitt said.
The new plan would draw sharing circles around transplant centers. While that sounds very local, the reality is the proposed sharing zones would be even larger sharing zones than the current regional plan.
How large the sharing zones should be is under debate.
Local surgeons express concern that livers would be zipping all over the country. They are concerned that would increase costs and harm patients.
“This is not how we want to practice. We want to help people and do our job. Our job now is to completely fight the system to advocate for our patients so they can have a chance at life,” Kumer said.
Right now, members of the public can weigh in about organ donation and allocation. Click here for more information.