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Organ Rationing: Who Lives? Who Dies?

Who decides who will get to the top of the organ donation list?

Today there are more than 119,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the U.S.  Only a small fraction of them will get the organs they need. We’ve discovered it’s not just how sick you are, but where you live can determine whether you get a lifesaving organ or not.

Matthew Rosiello is back in the DJ booth after getting a liver transplant.

Matthew was born with biliary atresia. Bile builds up in the liver and damages the vital organ.
“So, basically I was dying and I didn’t even know,” Matthew told Ivanhoe.
Matthew was on the transplant list near his home in New York City. Experts say in some metropolitan areas the wait for an organ can be longer. Matthew decided to multi-list and visited two other hospitals, in Connecticut and Ohio.
He got his new liver in Cleveland, but multi-listing can take more time, money, and support from family. It’s one reason why some say the system needs to change.
In the United States, there are eleven regions for organ sharing.
“Do I believe that this is the best way to divide the country?  No,” Lewis Teperman, MD, Director of Transplantation and Vice Chair of Surgery of New York University, Langone Medical Center, told Ivanhoe.
Rather than state borders, transplant doctor Lew Teperman suggests concentric circles, meaning organs would be shared by a group of states or cities, organized by distance, time, and population—giving more patients more options.
“I’m a prime example of how it can save people’s lives,” Matthew explained.
On average, 18 people die in the U.S. each day waiting for an organ, but more donors can help prevent that. If you’re interested in becoming an organ donor, go to:  http://www.organdonor.gov/index.html.

BACKGROUND: Biliary atresia is a blockage in the ducts of the human body that transport bile from the liver to the gallbladder. This happens when ducts inside, or outside, of the liver do not cultivate regularly. The function of the bile ducts is to remove waste from the liver and bring salts to the small intestine to digest fat. Eventually, this may lead to serious liver damage or cirrhosis of the liver. If this condition is not treated in enough time, it may lead to death. (Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001145.htm
CAUSES: The cause of biliary atresia is unknown. Most of the time the condition is present at birth and may experience other birth defects. Scientists believe that this is not a hereditary disease and is not passed on from the child’s parents. Research suggests that an early viral infection may be associated with biliary atresia. (Source: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/biliaryatresia/#Q3)
SYMPTOMS: Symptoms may begin between two to six weeks after birth. Symptoms may include:
• Pale/grey stool
• Yellowing of the skin or eyes
• Darker urine
• Intense itching  (Source: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/biliaryatresia/#Q4)

ORGAN DONATIONS: Experts say that the organs from one donor can save or help as many as 50 people.  Skin, cornea, internal organs, bone, and bone marrow are all organs that can be donated to another human. When people decide to donate their organs, they typically donate internal organs to family or friends. Most organ and tissue donations occur after the donor has died.  However, some organs and tissues can be donated while the donor is still alive.  There are no limitations on who can donate.  Whether you can donate depends on your physical condition, not age.  Newborns as well as senior citizens have been organ donors.  Non-resident aliens can both donate and receive organs in the U.S.  Organs are given to patients according to medical need, not citizenship.  In 2001, 334 (2.7 percent) of the 12,475 organ donors were non-resident aliens.  In this same year, 259 (one percent) of the 23,998 transplants performed were on non-resident aliens. (Source: http://www.organdonor.gov/faqs.html and http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/organdonation.html)
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Lorinda Ann Klein
Department of Communications & Public Affairs
NYU Langone Medical Center
(212) 404-3533

 

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