Can this new process save more organs?

Published November 29, 2021 in Blog

Can this new process save more organs?
Louise Matalonis Baer lost her husband in 2014 after spending 34 years together. Although the loss was and continues to be devastating, she was comforted to learn of the gifts her late husband was able to donate. “I lost my husband in 2014 and Mid-America Transplant helped me so much. I got a letter from them outlining all of the things Tony was able to give,” she says. “His tissue donation helped a lot of burn victims and his corneas went to two different people who got the gift of sight back, which is just amazing to me.”

The need for more organs and tissues is great. More than 110,000 men, women, and children are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Every year, the number of those waiting for a lifesaving miracle surpasses the number of donors and transplants available. Aside from growing the donor registry, one other challenge to overcome is whether willing donors have organs and tissues that are viable for transplant. One study from Mid-America Transplant looked at a new treatment that may help save more organs that can be used for transplant. 

New process may save more organs
Baer’s husband’s lifesaving gift may not have been possible if his corneas and tissues weren’t viable for transplant. Researchers at Mid-America Transplant found that a new process, which involves giving brain-dead donors fluids through a vein while monitoring their heart function, could raise the number of organs that can be transplanted. Each donor treated with the new process had an average of 3.4 transplanted organs compared to 2.9 from each donor treated with the standard process.

Why this research could help more transplant recipients
Mid-America Transplant's mission is to save lives through excellence in organ and tissue donation and that mission includes finding ways to make more organs available for transplant. Researchers designed this study to determine if a new process for giving IV fluids based on how well a donor’s heart pumped blood could save more organs. Brain dead donors often have poor heart function and are dehydrated. Pairing a heart that doesn’t work well with not enough water in the body often results in low blood pressure and organs that aren’t healthy enough for transplant. To keep the donors’ hearts working and blood pressure stable until surgery, they were given IV fluids and vasopressors (medicine that raises blood pressure).

How researchers conducted the study
Researchers screened brain-dead donors at Mid-America Transplant’s specialized organ donor care facility. A donor was a right fit for the research if they needed vasopressors to treat low blood pressure. The new process included:

● Giving donors extra IV fluids

● Measuring how much blood their heart pumped every 30 minutes for four hours

● Giving more IV fluids if a donor’s heart pumped 10 percent more blood

● Trying to stop or limit vasopressors as soon as possible before transplant surgery 

Researchers compared 64 brain-dead donors who were treated with the new process to 30 who were treated using a standard process. 

What were the results of the new process?
What the researchers found with the new process could be good news for the 110,000 patients waiting for a transplant. Researchers learned that the donors who were treated with the new process were given more IV fluids and spent less time on vasopressors compared to the donors treated with the standard process. The donors treated with the new process were more likely to donate four or more organs than those treated with the standard process. Donors treated with the new process donated an average of 3.4 organs each and the donors treated with the standard process donated an average of 2.9 organs each. 

Why research like this saves more lives 
The innovative research and commitment on behalf of the Mid-America Transplant research team means donors like Baer’s husband can help save more lives. “My husband was just a great guy. He was full of life, the life of every party and lived with gusto,” Baer adds. “The letter detailing the lifesaving gifts he passed on was hard to read but it felt so good to know that he helped all of these people.” 

Have you added your name to the organ donor registry? By registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor, you can bring hope to patients and families who are holding out for a miracle and help bridge the gap between the demand for organ donations and the availability of viable, lifesaving organs. Sign up for the donor registry, and increase the chance that patients waiting will get the transplants they need to survive.