New York - Organ Preservation Pilot Program Begins

The city is kicking off a program today which hopes to boost organ donations by trying to recover organs from donors who die outside the hospital.

The pilot program run by Bellevue Hospital, the New York City Police Department and the New York City Fire Department will test the ability of response teams to recover kidneys from people who die at home or other residential settings of cardiac arrest.

Officials say the program is starting with kidneys because they are the easiest to preserve and recover.

The program is the first of its kind in the United States, and health experts say it could dramatically change organ donation across the country. It is already common practice in some parts of Europe.

"They've been that way for 15, 20 years. We are losing opportunities throughout this country every single day,” said Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, director of emergency services at Bellevue Hospital.

“We anticipate organs obtained in this way, there would be so many, it would completely eliminate the wait list for kidneys in this country, completely eliminate,” said FDNY Divisional Medical Director Dr. Bradley Kaufman. “That would be a huge impact."

Regina and Mark Mirailh lost their 31-year-old son James in a car accident just over a decade ago. Seven of his organs were donated to different people. They say had he not died in the hospital, they would not have been able to honor his wish to be an organ donor.

“Sometimes in life you can actually give someone another life,” said Regina Mirailh.

The donor criteria are tight. Only donors between the ages of 18 and 60 already signed up on the state registry will be eligible. Even then, donation will only occur with consent of family or next-of-kin. Creators of the plan say they've done everything they can to put measures in place to make sure donor and family wishes are protected – and that they know medical professionals will still do everything they can to save their loved ones.

“Sometimes people are pronounced in the field and only at that time will this process occur,” said Kaufman.

The pilot program is set to run through May. Because of the strict donor criteria, doctors say from a statistical standpoint it’s likely they will only perform one or two transplants throughout the pilot, if any. What they say they are mostly testing here is a process, and whether the public will respond to this as an acceptable approach to saving lives.

The New York Organ Donor Network says about 8,000 New Yorkers are waiting for an organ donation, but only 285 donations were made last year.



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