Lifesaving Organ Transplants Up In Recent Years

Lifesaving Organ Transplants Up In Recent Years

While walking on a street in Blacksburg, Va., on March 26, 2002, Virginia Tech student Joe Leotta, 20, was hit by a car and died two days later. Earlier that month, Joe filled out his organ donor card, and his organs were donated shortly after the accident.

Now his organs are helping others live a healthy life, said Joe Leotta's mother Joan Leotta. In addition to April being National Donate Life month, it's also Joe Leotta's birthday month.

"He did that. He filled out the part of his driver's license," Joan Leotta said, who has filled out her organ donor card as well. "I've become an organ donor because of Joey."

Initially, they were going to take everything of Joe's that was useful including skin, but after consulting the family, they narrowed it down to internal organs. Joan Leotta noted the importance of the family consultation, and for people to understand the scope of organ donations. The United Network for Organ Sharing, located in Richmond, facilitates the matching process and manages all the organ donor data in the U.S.

"We hold the national waiting list," said spokesperson Annie Moore.

According to Moore, five organs can be donated from the human body: lungs, heart, kidney, liver, and pancreas. In addition, other body parts, such as bone marrow and small intestines, can be transplanted.

"Four people's lives were saved with Joe's organs. He was a young, healthy guy," Joan Leotta said.

"The organ procurement association does work with the family and loved ones," Moore said.

In March 2002, 40 of Joe's fraternity pledge brothers stayed at the hospital in a four-day vigil after the accident. They have now created a $250 scholarship at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Joe's name.

ORGAN DONATION is on the upswing, according to the Organ Procurement and Transportation Network, which claims that 6,455 people became organ donors in the United States in 2003, which is a 4.3 percent increase over the previous year. A total of 25,448 transplants were performed with organs from both deceased and living donors, and the number of patients that died while waiting for an organ transplant fell to 5,968 after exceeding 6,000 for every year since 1999. There are still 84,000 people waiting for transplants, according to Russell Wiesner, M.D., president of OPTN and the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Inova Fairfax increased its transplant capability when it renovated several operating facilities in past years and are building another transplant facility in the fall, said Kathleen Thomas, Inova spokesperson.

"The Inova heart and vascular facility will open in September," Thomas said.

Although Inova Fairfax has been the site of heart transplants since 1986, the new center will deal with new technology in that area.

"This is the only dedicated facility in the Washington, D.C. area dedicated to cardiovascular care," Thomas said.

Susan Peters, director of the Inova Transplant Center, said that kidney transplants are the most common organ transplant in the Northern Virginia area. At last count, 57,000 people are waiting for kidneys to be available for transplant. Kidney failure is connected with diabetes and hypertension.

"We have a higher incidence of in-stage kidney disease. Both diseases [diabetes and hypertension] cause chronic organ failure," Peters said.

Although Peters noted a particularly high occurrence of kidney failure among African Americans, it could be related to stress.

"A lot of people believe it's related to stress but they don't really know," Peters said.