The average wait time for an organ transplant in Louisiana is 1-5 years. 67% of donors are dead.
According to Dr. Ari Cohen, a 52-year old transplant surgeon at Ochsner Hospital, there are two approaches to shortening the wait time.
“We can increase living donation or increase organ donation awareness in the community so that when someone’s loved one passes away, they can give permission for them to become an organ donor,” said Cohen.
Cohen stressed that every aspect of an organ transplant, from wait time to life span, varies depending on the individual organ and patient.
Only 1 to 1.5% of people meet the requirements for organ donation when they die according to 52-year-old Kelly Ranum, the chief executive officer at the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency or LOPA.
“You have to die in a way where your brain is still working,” Ranum said.
When the blood flow is cut off to an organ, it must be transplanted quickly to remain viable.
The heart, lungs and liver have a time frame of four to six hours until the organ is unusable while the kidney and pancreas, generally transplanted together, have a little under 24 hours. Transplant surgeries can take up to four hours according to Ranum.
Ranum said scientists are working on a way to keep transplant-friendly organs alive once cut off from the blood supply in the form of a profusion pump. Ranum expects the pumps to be ready for use in the next five years.
Once an organ is cleared for transplant, LOPA receives a printed list of patient names.
“We do it in number order. Whoever prints out first. It’s all calculated in the background on the computer system based on blood type, height and weight of the donor. We work our way down the list,” Ranum said, “Depending on the organ, there is a different scoring based on severity of illness.”
Kidneys are more complicated as they require a match of tissue types.
Six out of every 10 patients are taken off the organ transplant waitlist because they received a new organ.
Patients may be considered medically unstable because of a downward slide in health or whether the transplant surgery seems survivable. Cohen said less than 1 in 200 patients die during transplant surgery.
Years after receiving a transplant, some patients return facing organ failure or organ deterioration. Cohen said returning transplant patients will be reevaluated to either be placed on dialysis or see if they are a candidate for another transplant.
“Having done this for almost 20 years, we do see some people come back later that need a second transplant. It’s probably under 10%,” said Cohen.
Ranum said 754 organs from Louisiana were transplanted last year across the country. Over 50% of Louisiana’s population are registered organ donors, according to Ranum.