As LifeGift celebrates 25 years of saving and enhancing lives, it’s only fitting to look at how the organ and tissue procurement industry has grown over the years. Several significant advancements have contributed to the evolution of the field.
Transplantation – taking a body part from one animal or human and placing it into another – is an ancient idea. But organ transplants did not become commonplace until after the development of immunosuppressive drugs to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs and tissues. These drugs enabled transplantation to become widely accepted as a treatment for end-stage organ failure. These drugs also advanced the medical care of transplant patients and added additional years to their lives. Coupled with this, however, was the need to acquire donor organs. Early on, an organized system for the recovery of organs and tissues was not needed as kidneys were obtained from living donors and very few transplants from deceased donors were performed. As the demand for donated organs and tissues continued to grow in the early 1970s, another significant advancement occurred – the organ procurement organization (OPO) was born. OPOs, first known as organ banks, were created to recover and preserve organs and tissue for transplantation and to work hand-in-hand with transplant centers. Originally, there were as many as 128 OPOs. Because some OPOs were too small to be economically viable, some suffered from poor performance and some simply did not have the resources or efficiencies to be successful, these were consolidated into the 58 OPOs throughout the country today. Now the system was organized, but the demand for transplantable organs still significantly outweighed the supply.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed the “Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative” to help the nation’s OPOs and hospitals to quickly learn to identify and develop best practices to increase consent and conversion rates. Among these best practices was the creation of the in-house coordinator, piloted by LifeGift. The in-house coordinator is a professional who works exclusively within an assigned donor hospital and collaborates with the hospital’s nurses, physicians and residents to identify potential donors, interacts with donor families and assists organ procurement coordinators in donor management. In 1995, LifeGift appointed four full-time in-house coordinators to work with Hermann Hospital (today, Memorial Hermann) and Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston. An analysis of the program indicated that organ conversion and consent rates increased dramatically. As a result, the in-house coordinator program became a model for other OPOs to follow.
Eventually, the idea for organ, eye and tissue donation registries emerged across the country, allowing U.S. residents to provide first-person authorization to become donors upon their deaths. Subsequently, the Glenda P. Dawson Donate Life Texas Registry was created in 2006, enabling Texans the opportunity to designate themselves as donors. This highly specialized industry continues to evolve, powered by creative, innovative thinking and the quest to save and enhance lives. If the last 25 years are any indication of what the future holds for the organ and tissue procurement industry, those waiting on a second chance have much to be hopeful about.