Hearts and livers available for transplants are going to waste, resulting in an untold loss of life, according to a study.
Doctors who tracked organs donated to a New York procurement agency put the blame Friday on inefficiency and inadequate resources."Everybody does their best, but the (ransplant) system needs to flow more smoothly," said Dr. John Ricotta, a kidney transplant surgeon at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
In a report to the American Society of Transplant Surgeons, Ricotta said up to half of all suitable livers and hearts donated to the University of Rochester Organ Procurement Program are being wasted.
He cited outdated national computer listings and the inability to quickly find candidates of similar blood type and size as the biggest obstacles to identifying recipients.
"If there's no (suitable) recipient, there's not much you can do about that," Ricotta said. "The bigger concern is that 50 percent of our calls could have been avoided" with a better placement system.
About 475 people are awaiting liver transplants in the United States, and nearly 900 others are awaiting new hearts, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. The Virginia-based organization has a federal contract to run the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which links by computer all transplant centers and organ procurement agencies.
No statistics are available regarding the number of organs that are donated but go unused in the United States each year.
But some doctors question whether as many as half of all donated hearts and livers that could be transplanted are being buried instead.
"One of the things they're calling wastage is simply the absence of an appropriate recipient. That's not a wasted organ. It's one that's just not used," said Dr. John McDonald, the transplant society's president.
The University of Rochester Organ Procurement Program began its study about a year ago after experiencing considerable difficulty in placing donated livers and hearts.
Officials tracked all organs donated through the Rochester program from January 1985 to October 1987, when a new scoring system for allocating transplant organs became mandatory for United Network of Organ Sharing members.
During the period, 203 brain-dead patients were referred, of which 74 proved medically suitable, Ricotta said. Families of the 74 patients were approached about the possibility of organ donation, and consent was obtained for 68 kidney donations, 55 liver donations and 44 hearts.
By the time the organ-placement process was completed, 64 donors were found to be ultimately suitable for kidney donation, 40 for liver donation and 42 for heart donation, Ricotta said. One of the kidney donors later proved to be medically unsuitable, reducing that number to 63.
Kidneys from all 63 donors were transplanted, but just 20 livers and 23 hearts were used, the study said.
Organ procurement coordinator Richard Kruk said he and others at the University of Rochester Organ Procurement Program made 411 telephone calls in an attempt to place the 39 unused hearts and livers, which were never removed from the donors' bodies.