Pandemic puts organ transplants on hold for critically ill patients

In anticipation of a COVID-19 patient surge and lack of space in intensive care units, some hospitals have limited transplant procedures, leaving thousands of Americans waiting for new organs in the lurch, according to NBC News. 

Zach Branson, 33, has a rare disease that slowly destroyed his liver. His uncle intended to donate part of his liver to Mr. Branson until Denver-based UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital informed them March 13 that the surgery was canceled. 

Though Mr. Branson said his surgeon told him he may only have 30 to 45 days to live without a transplant, the surgery to remove part of his uncle's liver is classified as elective — and therefore nonessential.

"UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is putting our living donor liver and kidney transplant program on hold for two weeks, in keeping with recommendations reflecting the national pandemic," Elizabeth Pomfret, MD, PhD, chief of transplant surgery at UCHealth, said in a statement to NBC News. "We and the remainder of the transplant community do not believe that choosing to immunosuppress a recipient and expose a donor to excess risk right now is in the interest of either the donor or recipient."

Mr. Branson said he is devastated, but understands that hospitals have to do what's best for everyone. He's hoping something changes, or that he receives a liver from a deceased donor, though the pandemic may also disrupt that process.  

Most hospitals don't have the ability to test donors for COVID-19, Howard Huang, MD, medical director of the lung transplant program at Houston Methodist, told NBC News. It is unknown how dangerous it would be to transplant organs from someone who had the virus.

The pandemic has not yet caused a dramatic decrease in the number of transplants in the Seattle area, said Kevin O'Connor, president and CEO of LifeCenter Northwest, a nonprofit that procures donor organs. Physicians at Seattle-based University of Washington School of Medicine have COVID-19 testing capabilities not yet widely available for donors nationwide, though Mr. O'Connor predicts patients will notice a difference as the outbreak worsens.

"It would be unrealistic to think or believe that there won't be some negative impact on the donor and transplantation enterprise," Mr. O'Connor told NBC News. "What we need to do is mitigate the risks and find ways to adapt how we do the work we do."

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In anticipation of a COVID-19 patient surge and lack of space in intensive care units, some hospitals have limited transplant procedures, leaving thousands of Americans waiting for new organs in the lurch, according to NBC News.

Zach Branson, 33, has a rare disease that slowly destroyed his liver. His uncle intended to donate part of his liver to Mr. Branson until Denver-based UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital informed them March 13 that the surgery was canceled.

Though Mr. Branson said his surgeon told him he may only have 30 to 45 days to live without a transplant, the surgery to remove part of his uncle's liver is classified as elective — and therefore nonessential.

"UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is putting our living donor liver and kidney transplant program on hold for two weeks, in keeping with recommendations reflecting the national pandemic," Elizabeth Pomfret, MD, PhD, chief of transplant surgery at UCHealth, said in a statement to NBC News. "We and the remainder of the transplant community do not believe that choosing to immunosuppress a recipient and expose a donor to excess risk right now is in the interest of either the donor or recipient."

Mr. Branson said he is devastated, but understands that hospitals have to do what's best for everyone. He's hoping something changes, or that he receives a liver from a deceased donor, though the pandemic may also disrupt that process.

Most hospitals don't have the ability to test donors for COVID-19, Howard Huang, MD, medical director of the lung transplant program at Houston Methodist, told NBC News. It is unknown how dangerous it would be to transplant organs from someone who had the virus.

The pandemic has not yet caused a dramatic decrease in the number of transplants in the Seattle area, said Kevin O'Connor, president and CEO of LifeCenter Northwest, a nonprofit that procures donor organs. Physicians at Seattle-based University of Washington School of Medicine have COVID-19 testing capabilities not yet widely available for donors nationwide, though Mr. O'Connor predicts patients will notice a difference as the outbreak worsens.

"It would be unrealistic to think or believe that there won't be some negative impact on the donor and transplantation enterprise," Mr. O'Connor told NBC News. "What we need to do is mitigate the risks and find ways to adapt how we do the work we do."

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