Donation during a global pandemic04/10/2020
Organ transplantation is not an elective surgery. It is a life-or-death surgical intervention for people in organ failure. Therefore, the gift of life continues, but the process has changed slightly for organ, eye and tissue recovery, donor risk screenings, and how we have conversations with donor families in an era of social distancing.
Amid the global pandemic, organ procurement organizations across the country, including Donor Network of Arizona (DNA), are working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, in partnership with hospitals and organ transplant centers, while continuing to make the most of life.
With an understanding of the evolving, unprecedented challenges our community currently faces, DNA’s operations are running 24/7. Below is an overview of some important changes that have been made to minimize the risk of spreading disease while continuing to serve donors, their families and the 112,000 people on the national organ waiting list.
So, what has changed?
First, all authorized potential organ donors are tested for COVID-19 during the evaluation phase of the donation process, even if the potential donor is asymptomatic. That’s because it has not been determined if the virus can be transmitted through organ transplantation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned some people may carry the virus with no chest pain, difficulty breathing or dry cough—three of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.
DNA works with a COVID-19 testing facility in Arizona.
Potential donors who test positive for COVID-19 are not able to donate. If a donor tests positive, we will report that result to the donor hospital and the Arizona Department of Health Services.
DNA is limiting onsite interactions as much as possible. DNA monitors and evaluates potential donation cases via phone calls, remote access to electronic medical records, and through donation conversations with families by phone, when appropriate. As needed during the donation process, DNA staff goes onsite to the hospital following hospital guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) for safety.
Are there less donors because of COVID-19?
It may be too early to know for sure. There have been more donation deferrals—meaning a potential donor was not able to donate—because of coronavirus risk factors or positive test results. However, recent numbers from March 31, 2020, show the volume of successful organ donation cases has steadily increased in Arizona over the last six months (with the timeframe of the onset of this pandemic included).
If families are not allowed to visit patients, how are you meeting families for donation conversations?
The limitations on family visits in hospitals reduce exposure and ensure safety for all, and DNA supports that measure. But these limitations can be challenging to donation conversations. They affect our ability to meet with families in person and explore this most genuine act of generosity of organ, eye and tissue donation. However, we are meeting the challenge. Sometimes, we can meet with families in the hospital. Other times, we connect with them over the phone. We continue to be amazed at the generosity of those we meet at this time.
DNA has adjusted how to best make a connection with donor families, and we value hospital and family support to have these important conversations.
Like everyone involved in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning every day and our processes continue to evolve. We are grateful for the exceptional work performed by DNA and hospital staff to continue organ donation and transplantation, and we remain humbled by donors and their families who choose life in such a time of national crisis.
Reminder: It is National Donate Life Month. While we won’t be seeing you at local events and activities, we’re inviting you to join us as we spread generosity while social distancing. Please visit dnaz.org/spread-generosity-not-germs/ if you’d like to learn more!