BOSTON (CBS) – 5,027 is a big number. That’s how many people in New England are waiting on the organ transplant list. With Boston’s world class health care system, many might think patients here have the best chance of survival.
The I-Team found something different. Patients here wait longer than just about anyone else in the country for a transplant. They also tend to be sicker if they do ultimately get an organ.
Patti Mahoney had to move across the country, from her home in Amherst, New Hampshire to Los Angeles, so she would have a better chance fighting for her life. She needs a heart transplant.
“If I was to wait in New England, I would probably have to wait about four and half years, my doctor told me,” explained Mahoney. “So by moving to LA . . . I could get a heart in three to six months.”
Richard Luskin, president of the New England Organ Bank, said the greatest burden his organization has is trying to find an organ for everybody who is on the waiting list.
When asked if the current distribution system for organ is working for patients in New England, Luskin said, “I don’t believe so. We still have pretty significant variation from region to region.”
The I-Team obtained data from UNOS, a national nonprofit that works with all the regional transplant centers. Nationally, an adult has a 63% chance of getting a heart transplant within two years. In New England, it’s just 51%.
For a kidney, the national average is 13%, and just 10% here.
The I-Team found for a liver, the national average for a transplant is 48% within two years, but just 38% in our region.
The disparity to some degree can be attributed to the good health of people in the Northeast, according to Luskin. The best organ donors die of trauma, such as from a car accident, or from a stroke. Fewer people in the Northeast die in those manners than in other parts of the country.
There is now a push to change the current 11 zone system so that waiting times are more uniform.
“Somebody in Boston shouldn’t feel bad that that’s where they live,” said Dr. David Mulligan of the Yale University School of Medicine. He is one of the nation’s leading experts on liver transplants. He is also working on a committee to examine ways of improving the way organs are distributed.
Dr. Mulligan’s committee will meet in Chicago on Tuesday to discuss proposed revisions to the current system. “We will get to a better place than we have now and we will save more lives. We’ll reduce disparity, and we will do the right things for patients,” added Dr. Mulligan.
One of the challenges is to convince districts with low waiting times that these changes should be made. Concerns are already coming out of places with shorter waits, like Georgia and Kansas.
Mahoney wishes she didn’t have to double list for a heart in both Boston and Los Angeles. “It’s gotta be done. I don’t have a choice. I want to stay here. I want the support of family and friends. I want my team at the Brigham. I just need to do this for my family, and myself. I want to see my kids grow up.”
About two thirds of eligible donors have registered themselves as organ donors. Both Luskin and Dr. Mulligan said increasing the participation rate would go a long way in reducing wait times.
Click here to learn how to register online.
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