KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) – Transplant surgeons in the Kansas City area are sounding the alarm over a new nationwide policy that will soon change the rules, and doctors warn it will have a devastating effect and harm local patients.
Tyler Reimer is 40 years old and waiting for a liver transplant.
Reimer learned about his illness when suddenly got sick after coaching basketball practice.
“When I got home, I just was having a hard time standing, and I finally told my wife I said, ‘I think we need to go to the doctor,’” he said.
Reimer was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer and learned the disease affected his liver. He’s been waiting for a transplant for more than a year and is finally towards the top of the list.
“It's scary. I'll be real honest with you, I'm to the point now… I'm ready. I want to be over and done,” he told KCTV5 News.
Reimer is just one local patient who has recently learned nationwide rules are changing, meaning he will likely wait much longer for a transplant. He’s bracing himself and his family.
“Somebody that might be close to the top now was going to drop to the bottom, and it's totally going to look 100% different,” he said.
The new liver allocation rules go into effect February 4. The controversial plan means organs will be shared up to 500 nautical miles away.
This will greatly benefit communities where organ donation rates are poor.
“The biggest beneficiaries under the new policy would be New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and an extensive region in Texas served by the OPO in Houston,” University of Kansas transplant director Dr. Sean Kumer explained.
While those areas could see greater access for transplants, communities with a healthier donation rate, like the Midwest, will be negatively impacted.
“It doesn't, it doesn't make sense at all, you know. You have an area in the country which has a very poor donation rate per population compared to an area of the country that has really good donation rates,” Kumer said. “And they feel like, ‘Well, it's really hard to do some grassroots and increase donations in our area. Why don't we just go over there and take organs from somewhere else?’ Which is essentially what's happening.”
Kumer noted that the new plan doesn’t solve what he considers the root of the problem - there aren’t enough donors.
The new plan for liver transplants follows recent changes for lung and heart transplants, with kidney transplants likely next.
United Network for Organ Sharing, the government organization in charge of organ allocation rules, argues the new plan will even things out for patients no matter where they live.
However, many surgeons say patients will have to be sicker before they qualify for a donation, situations that will affect outcomes for patients across the nation.
Numerous hospitals are fighting the proposed changes and predict devastating consequences.
“We are anticipating a decrease of 40-45% in this area of the country,” Kumer said.
The transplant team at the University of Kansas points out there isn’t a surplus of organs in our area. More than 100 people are currently on the wait list for a liver. Every year multiple patients die waiting for a transplant.
“Unfortunately for our patients here, they are going to be waiting much longer,” University of Kansas Medical Center transplant specialist Dr. Ryan Taylor said. “So I'm telling patients that we're going to have to wait potentially months longer than we anticipated for them to get a transplant because of this proposed changes.”
For more information about organ donation, visit OrganDonor.gov.