COVID-19 impacts organ donations, transplants across US

Posted at 11:44 AM, Jul 06, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For Steve and Linda Trilling, it’s a trying time: balancing fears of the coronavirus and awaiting the chance for Steve to get a kidney transplant.

“Everything got pushed back,” he said.

Steve is fortunate, though – he found a match in a living donor. The problem is that the coronavirus caused most hospitals to temporarily stop transplant surgeries. Steve’s wife, Linda, who is a nurse, understands why.

“I want him to be off a dialysis. I want him to be healthy again,” she said. “I also want it to be in a safe atmosphere.”

The issue goes beyond just waiting for surgeries to resume.

Right now, more than 112,000 people are awaiting an organ transplant in the U.S., according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. While most will get an organ from a living donor, approximately one-third, 33%, of all organs used in transplants come from donors who died in motor vehicle accidents. When widespread lockdowns kept people at home and off the road this past spring, those particular organ donations dropped, as did others.

David Klassen is with the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit which manages the nation’s transplantation system through a contract with the federal government.

“Starting in about mid-March, organ donation really plummeted fairly abruptly and there is an approximately 50% decrease in the number of organ donors over the course of about two weeks,” Klassen said.

Safety measures instituted since COVID-19 emerged include testing organ donors. Klassen remains hopeful the transplant system will begin to return to normal.

“Right now, actually, the system is increasing the numbers of transplants and really things are getting fairly close back toward what we saw prior to the pandemic,” he said.

However, that may also depend on where you live. Record numbers of coronavirus cases are emerging in states across the South and West, which is straining hospital resources. Just this past week, one of the largest hospital systems in Miami placed some transplant surgeries on hold.

For Steve and Linda Trilling, there’s hope his dialysis may become a thing of the past.

“It's been a ride, you know, trying to get myself as healthy as I can for when everything happens,” he said.

He has a potential transplant surgery date set for later this summer.

“We are so blessed, so blessed, that we are, that we have a donor, that we have a goal,” Linda said. “So, that is, I think, my biggest thing, is having him off this lifeline.”

“Just trying to get back to normal,” Steve added.

It is a normalcy that’s been missing for them far longer than for most. For more information on organ transplants or to become a donor, click here.