Organ transplant record means more local blood use

January 13, 2016 at 12:59 pm


You may not know that BloodworksNW does all the infectious disease and HLA (compatibility) testing for organ donation our region!

The Pacific Northwest saw a record number of organ transplants in December. We tested for 40 donors, and with 2.5 transplants coming from each donor, this means roughly 100 transplants resulted in Seattle and Portland hospitals.

An organ transplant is a time-sensitive procedure with a narrow window of opportunity. We work with two organizations to facilitate these lifesaving operations: LifeCenter Northwest and Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank. Between these two groups, we support five states: Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana.

Donated organs come from individuals at or near end of life: people who have irreparable damage to their neurological system, on life support and without brain activity, but whose bodies are otherwise functional. Blood must flow to an organ for as long as possible to ensure that it’s viable when transplanted to a recipient.

Organs recovered for transplant are most frequently transplanted into recipients in our region. This is in part due to the national allocation system, and in part it reflects the short time that some organs recovered for transplant can survive before transplantation. In Washington, organs are transplanted  at one of four hospitals: University of Washington Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center, Seattle Childrens, or Virginia Mason Medical Center.

This means that when organ transplants happen there can be a spike in local needs for blood. Heart, lung, and liver transplants usually need a lot of blood – the average for a solid organ transplant is about 20 units.

No one can predict when a donor organ for transplant will become available. While elective surgeries tend to slow down during the holidays, organ transplants must proceed within hours of a donor organ being available. “Despite a great turnout by dedicated blood donors in December, we still faced shortages due to demand for unpredictable organ transplants that occurred, says Mark Destree, Director of Transfusion Medicine and Donor Testing Laboratories,

We were expecting to be slow and it wasn’t.

In January we’re still seeing higher than usual number of transplants, several with a higher-than-average usage of blood. For example, five donors were identified on January 6 and 7, 2016 – this is one third of the expected total over a normal month in just two days.

“As it can happen, we all need to be ready,” says Dr. Karen Nelson, co-director of BloodworksNW’s HLA lab.

It’s critical that we anticipate any changes to the demand on our local blood supply. The key to this is a stable inventory, which is where donors like you come in!

Often patients have been waiting years for their chance at a transplant. To cancel their transplants because of blood shortages would be unconscionable.

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