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UIHC near top nationally in organ donations


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Every week, Suzanne Witte asks the same question.

“Have you considered an organ donation?

While it’s a difficult decision for some to make when a family member is declared brain-dead, it could save the lives of eight people.

“Not a lot of people get to save a life,” said Witte, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ family-support program coordinator.

UIHC officials strive to educate people about the importance of organ donations, and they have been successful in increasing donation rates.

The UIHC has one of the highest organ-donor rates in the nation, and it recently received the Department of Health and Human Services Medal of Honor for Organ Donation as a part of Donate Life Month.

Garnering the award didn’t happen overnight. Witte and a group of social workers have been working toward the goal since 2004, when the hospital joined 103 other institutions in the Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative initiative to increase organ donation rates to above 75 percent.

Witte and her coworkers talk with the family members of patients and discuss the option of donation — but only after every effort is made to save patients’ lives.

“[Saving lives] has to be our ultimate goal, always,” Witte said. If a life can’t be saved, organ donation becomes the goal.

The need for organ donation is ever increasing. There were 107,045 individuals on the donation waiting list Wednesday, and 585 are Iowans.

Every day, 18 people die on the waiting list according, to the Iowa Donor Network.

The “list” itself is more of a pool of patients, according to the organ transplants website. There is no ranking or order until a donor is announced, then patients matching the donor’s blood type, size, and genetic characteristics are placed in the list.

Another factor is location: Patients closest to the site of donation are placed higher on the list. This ensures the shortest period of time to ensure successful transplantation.

Alan Reed, the head of the UI Organ Transplant Center, works on this side of the process — receiving and transplanting donated organs.

Reed noted that his department doesn’t get involved in the organ-request process because it would pose a conflict of interest.

“It’s a clear-cut line that we don’t cross,” he said.

As soon as his department gets an organ, it is transplanted with a “remarkable success rate,” he said.

Officials at the UIHC and the Iowa Donor Network feel that planning for situations that would involve the difficult decision is critical.

“Most people are encouraged to make their conditions known,” said Suzanne Conrad, the CEO of the Iowa Donor Network.

This can be as simple as people having the letter “Y” on their driver’s licenses. The Iowa Donor Registry offers online applications that establish the license holder as a registered organ donor — something that makes the difficult end-of-life decision a little easier.

Some UI students said they are registered, and they found the decision easy to make.

“I think it’s really big,” said UI sophomore Stephanie Cardenas. “It helps not one but many lives.”

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