Organ transplants 'dramatically slowed' by pandemic

Apr 27, 2020

It isn't just that COVID-19 is devastating the healthcare system, there is also the interference with other parts of health care, like the transplants which can give so many new lives and new futures.

Over the decades, the medical community has persuaded the public to volunteer their bodies for organ transplants. That has become an essential part of the life and death. Because of the virus, however, transplants have dropped off substantially.

"It has slowed down dramatically over the past six or seven weeks," said ConnectLife Senior Vice President Kevin Gramlich. "It doesn't appear that there is any end in sight. We normally do four to six organ donations a month in Western New York. We've done two in the past eight weeks. New York City averages one a day, if not more. They've gone seven days without one donation."

Everything is now more complicated. Families can't be in the hospital when the patient passes away, eliminating that immediate access to arrange for organ donations. Hospital resources are heavily involved in treating the virus and transplants are often considered elective surgery.

Gramlich said new procedures protect the transplant recipient.

"If the hospital has already tested and the patient has come back negative for COVID and it's been more than 24 hours, we will send with our regular serological tests COVID specimens and we have the results within 45 minutes to an hour," Gramlich said. "Like you're suggesting, they want to make as close to the time of recovery that that patient is negative." 

As the executive for organ, eye and tissue services, Gramlich said hospitals and medical centers doing transplants are very cautious because of the potential for a transplant carrying the virus, even in someone who has recovered.

"Maybe 14 days later, left the hospital, went home, made their way back to the hospital because of an unfortunate injury, was suitable to be an organ donor, we would definitely re-test," he said. "One of the challenges is getting acceptance of the organ from the transplant center."

There are still 118,000 people on the list for transplants and 18 die a day. That's why slowing the transplant system blocks the operations for people on the list.