KU hospital fights back in east,west coast liver fight

Kim Harbur, founder of Gift of Life, says the midwest has worked hard to achieve the highest rate of organ donation. Photo courtesy of University of Kansas Hospital.

Photo courtesy of University of Kansas Medical Center.

By Joe Lambe

A battle over who gets livers for transplant is underway, and coastal states want Midwestern livers.

The University of Kansas Hospital announced this week that it is calling for the United Network for Organ Sharing to delay considering a proposal to distribute livers nationally instead of regionally.

UNOS contends more lives would be saved that way. The KU Hospital and more than 40 other transplant programs oppose the change.

They contend it will cost taxpayers $30 million a year and patients in local areas will be put at more risk.

Livers currently go to the sickest patients within 11 regions, some of which have much higher rates of donated livers than others.

The local Midwest Region 8 has the highest donor rate in the nation at 82 percent. Large coastal cities have much lower rates and far longer wait times for livers.

see a video created by the University of Kansas Hospital

According to the press release from University of Kansas Hospital:

The donation rate for New York state region is 55 percent and that in California is 71 percent, and they should work to increase that, not take Midwestern livers.

“The only way to save more lives is to increase organ donation in other regions,” said Dr. Timothy Schmitt of the University of Kansas Hospital.  “Flying livers across the country from high donation regions to lower donation regions removes any incentives for those donation programs to get better.”

More importantly, Dr. Schmitt noted, “By simply reallocating where livers go without increasing donations, you only change where people die waiting for a liver.”

He also said that with far longer transport times for livers, transplants in some cases may not work as well.

According to a July 25 article by Alan Bavley of the Kansas City Star:

About 12,000 people are added to liver transplant waiting lists each year but the number of donors has remained at about 7,000 per year.

Supporters of change such as surgeons on the east and west coasts contend it could save more than 550 lives over five years. But it could hurt programs like those at KU Hospital that are doing well under the current system.

KU Hospital now has an average wait time for a liver of less than six months compared to the national average of 14 months.

It is not known why some regions have higher rates of donors than others. If all regions did as well as the local one, there would have been 993 more livers for transplant nationwide in 2013, KU Hospital told the Star.

Another KU hospital press release this week quotes Kim Harbur, founder of Gift of Life, a leading national donor awareness group.

She says coastal transplant programs should instead start community programs dedicated to donor awareness and collaboration.

In the Midwest region, she said, Gift of Life, the Midwest Transplant Network and other community partners worked long and hard to get the nation’s highest donor rate.

She will speak against the proposed change at a meeting this month in Chicago, she said.

“You’re really just moving the organs around the game board at that point…we have to get more donors.”


  1. Marli Murphy says:

    Our region has a high rate of organ donors because Midwest Transplant Network’s continued hard work in raising awareness throughout area communities about the desperate need for more organ donors. I worked at KU Hospital for 7 years and saw this in action. In addition, specific hospital caregivers and staff members receive special training in how to have these very difficult conversation with grief-stricken family members whose loved one is at the end of life. It’s done with such compassion and care. MTN should serve as a model program for areas of the country where organ donation is low — rather than be forced to become an organ export factory.

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