ECMC temporarily suspends living organ donor transplants

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Erie County Medical Center announced Tuesday, it is temporarily suspending its living organ donor transplant program, following the death of a donor.

In the spring of 2013, a living donor successfully provided a transplant organ to a family member. About six months later, that donor died from an illegal drug overdose. After conferring with the United Network for Organ Sharing, ECMC voluntarily decided to suspend the living transplant program, while it reviews its policies.

“ECMC proactively decided to temporarily suspend living donor recoveries. The ECMC transplant program otherwise continues unaffected and ECMC fully expects that the living donor program will be reinstated by mid-July 2014. In the meantime, the transplant program will fully support and guide any potential living organ donor and recipient in the alternatives available to them,” read a statement released by the hospital on Tuesday.

ECMC said it has directly notified all potential living organ donors and potential recipients of the decision.

It is a crucial situation, because ECMC’s Center of Excellence is now the only program in the area that offers organ transplants from living donors.

Patti Merritt told News 4 the first thing that goes through a patient’s mind, upon hearing news such as this, is “Fear. People are afraid, and it’s very upsetting to know that the wait will be longer.”

Merritt would know. Her life was saved by a living organ donor 13 years ago, when her sister-in-law gave her a new kidney.

Merritt has since co-founded the Kidney Connection – an online forum where people in need of transplants can post their profiles, and find donors.

She wants dialysis patients and those on kidney waiting lists to know, this temporary setback does not mean they should stop searching for living donors.

“Any kidney donation is the best treatment for kidney disease, absolutely. A kidney from a living donor, if you have a choice, is preferred,” Merritt said. “You’re able to plan ahead. You can receive a kidney from someone who has been screened, and determined to be very healthy. You’re able to plan a surgery, as opposed to waiting on the list and getting a call spontaneously. All kidneys that are transplanted tend to last a very long time, but living kidney donors’ tend to last even longer.”

The most important step for anyone in need of a kidney or other living organ transplant, Merritt said, is to be proactive. She advises people against simply getting their names on a list, and waiting, hoping for the best.

“When people hear about your need, they can be inspired. The Kidney Connection has had many successes, and strangers have come forward and given kidneys, and saved lives,” she said. “We’re very hopeful, and confident, that the program will be restarted soon.”

In the meantime, patients can still come to ECMC for checkups and treatment, such as dialysis. Transplants from non-living donors continue unaffected.

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