Upstate News

April 15, 2001
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Organ transplant waiting list soars nearly 50 percent in last year More than 370 people from Upstate New York await kidney transplants

The number of Upstate New Yorkers waiting for kidney and pancreas transplants, 370, is at an all-time high. The new figure, up from 250 last year, represents a nearly 50 percent increase.

“We have never seen this many people from this area on the waiting list for kidney transplants,” said Bill Morris, executive director of the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network (FLDN). “The situation is critical,” he said. “Many of these individuals may wait as long as two years to find a compatible donor.”

Morris was joined at a morning press conference at University Hospital by Dilip Kittur, M.D., professor of surgery at SUNY Upstate Medical University and director of University Hospital’s Transplant Program, and others to kick off National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week, which runs through April 20.

The increase in the wait list for kidney and pancreas transplants is not all that surprising, according to Kittur. In fact patient referrals to the University Hospital’s Transplant Program were up more than 100 percent last year, rising from 90 to 185. University Hospital last year performed 41 kidney transplants, up from 36 in 1999. Since January 2001, the hospital has performed 11 kidney transplants.

“So many more people are eligible for kidney transplants today than were years ago,” he said. “We have made tremendous progress in treating kidney disease and in transplantation procedures that individuals of an advanced age or those who suffer from hypertension or have other existing conditions can now be candidates for transplantation.”

Kittur also noted that physicians are diagnosing renal disease at an early stage. “We are able to put someone on the list sooner and hopefully find them a match before major health complications set in, but this is not always possible.”

The longer an individual has to wait for a kidney the greater the likelihood that one may develop more health complications, Kittur said. If no immediate match with a living family member can be found, Upstate New Yorkers can wait between 12 and 18 months for a cadaveric kidney transplant. Though some patients have been waiting for a new kidney for three years or more.

Waits may be especially long for African Americans or individuals from other underrepresented populations, Morris said. “There are some very important genetic markers we need to match in donors and recipients and without a lot of African Americans desiring to be donors it becomes difficult to find a organ match for this population,” he said.

The growing list of individuals waiting for a transplant makes it imperative that individuals contemplate becoming an organ donor, Morris said. “One of the greatest obstacles for the transplant community is educating the public on the need to consider organ donation,” he said. “It’s always difficult talking about organ donation, because when we do we touch on our own mortality. But the discussion of whether to be an organ donor is really a discussion about how we can save a life.”

The Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, one of 59 federally designated organ procurement agencies in the United States, helps match individuals on organ transplant waiting lists with donors. When there is a donor available, information such as blood type, age, height and weight are entered into the United Network for Organ Sharing computer, which searches for the best-matched recipient for each organ available. Organs from area donors are matched with patients waiting for a transplant both locally and nationally. In most cases, within 24 hours after receiving a donation, a transplant recipient is in the operating room.

In addition to urging individuals to sign organ donor cards, Morris asked that National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week also be celebrated by “remembering and recognizing organ donors and their families for their generous gift of life passed on to organ recipients.”

To learn more about becoming a donor, contact the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network at 1-800-810-5494.

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