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Advances in Organ Transplants Save Lives

Organ transplants have always been a delicate medical procedure. There is a small window during which the donor organs can be successfully retrieved and an even smaller window during which they can be transported and implanted in the transplant recipient. Once the donor organs have been retrieved, traditionally the surgeons can have as little as 6 hours to get the organ transplanted before the organ is no longer viable and no longer safe to transplant.

There are over 1,600 Canadians added to the waiting list annually and just one donor can help save up to 8 lives. The kidney, pancreas, and liver are among the top organs needed this year. New advances in organ transplant and organ transportation technologies are presenting a new ray of hope to the thousands of people sitting on transplant waiting lists around the world. By increasing the time an organ can be outside of the body, and reducing the number of patients on the transplant waiting list, these new technologies can potentially save thousands of lives every single year.
Transplant Matching
One of the biggest problems with organ transplant is matching donors to transplant recipients. Both parties have to be a match for both blood type and tissue or human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing. If these things do not match, the recipient’s body could reject the organ. At best, this puts them back on the transplant waiting list, and at worst, it could lead to death.
The more people are listed as organ donors, the higher the chance a transplant match can be found. If you aren’t registered as a donor, and would like to apply, The Canadian Transplant Society has resources for each province.
New Hope for Longer Transport Times
Time is always an issue when dealing with organ transplants. A healthy heart or pair of lungs will, as mentioned above, last about 6 hours after being removed from the donor. That’s 6 hours to get the organ transported to the recipient and implanted before cell death renders the organ no longer viable.
One of the biggest recent breakthroughs in organ transportation is the TransMedics Organ Care System. This system tricks the donor organs into thinking that they’re still inside a body while they’re being transported. Hearts pump blood, lungs process oxygen, and other donor organs are able to function normally even after being removed from the donor body.
The Organ Care System keeps oxygenated blood flowing through the organs, slowing cell decay and extending the time available to transport the organ to its recipient.
While the system has not yet been approved by the FDA for widespread use, the concept is extremely encouraging. With something like this, organs could be safely transported across the country or even across the globe.
Bust the Myths
When asked why they aren’t an organ donor, many people reply that they’ve heard horror stories about what happens to organ donors in the hospital. Some of the most common myths include stories such as:

  • Hospitals just want me for my organs, so they won’t try to save my life if I’m an organ donor, or they’ll just go ahead and declare me dead even if I’m not!
  • It’s expensive to donate organs and I don’t want to make my family pay for that!
  • I can’t have a funeral with an open casket if I donate organs!
The key to reassuring these doubting potential donors is information, up to and including walking them through the donation process. You can leave out the details, if you’re worried about someone with a weak stomach. Don’t leave the donation process as some big mystery — all that does is propagate fear and more myths like the ones we have listed above.
If someone has a question about becoming an organ donor, welcome it. Take the opportunity to teach, and you may find your information is soon passed on to others as well.
While it’s true that organ donation is essential to saving lives, it’s not possible without the decisions of millions of brave donors and their families. These people are choosing to donate their organs to total strangers.
The least members of the medical community can do is make sure those donations don’t go to waste. The new advances in transplant technology will make sure these noble decisions are not wasted, and provide a new ray of hope and a new shot at life for people who have been waiting on the transplant list for weeks, months or years.
Take the first step and register as an organ donor in your state, if you haven’t already. It’s the steps taken by each individual, when paired with the technological advances, that will really save lives. What are you waiting for?

This is a guest post by Megan Ray Nichols, editor of Schooled By Science. She is a science writer who enjoys discussing the latest discoveries in biology, astronomy and psychology. She also enjoys learning about the latest innovations in technology. When she isn't writing, Megan enjoys hiking, biking and stargazing. You can follow Megan on twitter @nicholsrmegan or subscribe to her blog here.

Advances in Organ Transplants Save Lives

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