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Friday, July 9, 2021

Transplants in the Time of COVID

Elizabeth Cooney at STAT:
Covid-19’s first surge last year flooded hospitals in the United States and nearly drowned those in the Northeast. They couldn’t find enough personal protective equipment for beleaguered workers, they didn’t yet have reliable testing for patients or staff, and they couldn’t know when the nightmare might end. Within that maelstrom, many transplants had to be put on hold: How do you perform life-saving operations when the supply of already scarce donor organs nose-dives?

Turns out, you turn to your neighbors. That’s one reason why, by the end of 2020, the number of transplants performed nearly equaled the number completed the year before, experts told STAT. Another reason: With family members of potential donors banned from hospital waiting rooms, organ procurement organizations had staff contact them at home.

There were 39,036 transplants across the United States in 2020, which given the pandemic, compares favorably with the 39,719 transplants in 2019. The number of transplants from deceased donors actually increased in 2020, reaching 33,310 compared with 32,322 the year before. The overall difference comes from living donor transplants, which went down significantly, from 7,397 to 5,726.

That translated into more deaths of people on the transplant waiting list: In 2020, 5,994 people died waiting for an organ, compared with 5,233 in 2019.