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EXPORTER: Bridging the gap between recovery and transplant

Reported by: Vicki Gonzalez
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Updated: 5/07 11:01 am
LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- Nevada's organ donor network has many successes and shortcomings.

Joe Ferreria, CEO of the Nevada Donor Network, says 120,000 people are on the transplant list nationwide -- over 500 of those are in Nevada -- and a person is added to that list every ten minutes. 

"There is such a desperate need -- people are dying every day," Ferreria said.

Frankly, the need doesn’t match the demand -- 18 people die every day waiting for a second chance. The lives those numbers represent are embedded in the Nevada Donor Network's DNA. Once a donor has been confirmed, on-site hospital staff like Debra Toti at University Medical Center have the challenging task of finding a match.

"It is very complicated," said Toti. "The computer work, calling people, organizing things, people flying in, or, nurses-- it's chaos sometimes, but it's good chaos."

One human being has the potential to donate six life-saving organs, as well as provide tissue that can improve the lives of dozens of others. Rebecca Nicholas is the manager of surgical services at the Nevada Donor Network, and says one donor can very likely have multiple matches spanning several transplant centers across the country.

"When you are a mass exporter, you want to say you are almost limited due to the time frames," says Nicholas.

Because each organ has its own ticking clock outside the body, grueling coordination is needed to see that each life-saving gift finds a transplant patient in time.

"If we can't find a recipient that is a perfect match within those time frames, sometimes we have to bury a good organ," Nicholas said.

Rebecca says advances such as kidney profusion strengthen that chance. The organ is infused with nutrients before transplant, making the kidney more likely to be accepted by the body.

Once the donor has been matched to recipients, the actual organ recovery begins.

"We will have a box for each organ that is getting exported out of Las Vegas," Nicholas said. "Everyone is going to start moving real quick -- getting them packaged, getting them cooled, the whole nine yards."

However, not all organs go to a transplant patient, but to the future of donations.

The Nevada Donor Network teams with clinical trials for what is known as "The Breathing Lung." Lungs are one of the most difficult organs to successfully transplant. Encapsulated inside, this donated lung functions much like it would inside a body with the donor's blood pumping through. With this preservation device, a lung initially unfit for transplant can be reconditioned. "For this particular donor we have unblocked lungs that will be going inside of what we call a 'Lung Box,'" says Nicholas. 

Nevada's large footprint in organ recovery may one day help keep more life-saving organs in Nevada; local residents do not have priority.

"We are all here with the same goal," Toti said. "To watch people walk out of the hospital with a new lease on life."

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