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Organ donor shortage exists despite UMC doctors' pleas

By Irene Hsiao
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
August 27, 1999

Two weeks ago, UMC had six patients using artificial heart devices, more than any other hospital in the world at the time.

Four of those six today remain reliant on their artificial heart, hoping to be given the gift a healthy heart.

The other two patients met different outcomes - one received a transplant, the other died waiting for one.

Because of a shortage in organ donors , University Medical Center doctors made an plea for help at a press conference two weeks ago.

Doctors hope the plea will give a boost to the donation cause, which is already down 43 percent this year, according to the Donor Network of Arizona.

Across the country, 13 patients die each day because of the lack of organ donors, said Sara Pace Jones, spokeswoman for the organization. In addition, more than 65,000 hopefuls are on a waiting list.

"They don't die because doctors don't know how to save them, but because there is a shortage of donors," Pace Jones said.

In Arizona, 51 people died waiting for organs last year compared to 40 in 1997, according to Pace Jones.

She added that donations go up only slightly every year because less potential donors are telling their families they want to donate.

Pace Jones said this year 40 donors had contributed 89 organs by the end of June. Yet last year 44 donors gave 157 organs during the same time. A total of 303 organs were donated in 1998.

"If 75 percent of people who could donate would donate, the list would be wiped out in two years," she said.

Statewide, there are 794 patients who need organs - including 505 waiting for kidneys and more than 150 for hearts.

UMC is the only place in Arizona to get heart transplants.

Pace Jones also mentioned that donation did go up in 1998 by five percent, the first time that number has increased by more than one percent in the last ten years

People are more apt to donate the more they know about organ transplants, she said.

"People need to get educated about donating, make their decision and tell their families," she said.

Pace Jones said 94 percent of families support their loved one's wish, as long as the know of the decision. Seeing patients with donors makes her want to promote her cause even more, she said.

"It makes your heart sink," she said. "I felt a little disheartened and I felt more motivated to raise awareness."

Nancy Edling, a UMC heart transplant coordinator, said a good start to increasing the number of organ donors is to inform potential donors about the shortage.

"It's really difficult to see all these people who don't get that second chance because of the shortage of donors," Edling said.

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