The media-fueled saga of 10-year-old cystic fibrosis patient Sarah Murnaghan ended happily last week for her and her family. But the successful legal and publicity campaign that allowed her to leap to the front of the waiting list for a life-saving lung transplant highlights the underlying dilemma: Despite a decade of efforts to lift the nation's donation rate, there still aren't enough organs for the more than 118,000 people awaiting transplants.
Hospitals remain the major source of donated organs, which are retrieved after obtaining family consent from brain-dead trauma victims and other patients with zero prospects for survival. In addition, a national campaign begun a decade ago by HHS and involving federally designated organ procurement organizations and hospitals succeeded in raising the number of pre-designated organ donors, usually identified on a person's driver's license, to more than 41% of U.S. adults.
The campaign doubled the number of actual donors and lifted the yield from dying patients from slightly more than 50% to about 76% during the past 10 years, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a Richmond, Va.-based advocacy group that has operated the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network since 1986 under a federal contract with HHS.
But after an initial burst of enthusiasm, progress has stalled at the nation's 800 hospitals with the largest organ-donor potential, and some advocates say healthcare administrators aren't doing enough. Hospitals “should have a bigger role in promoting organ and tissue donation,” said David Bosch, director of communications for Gift of Hope, an organ procurement organization serving Illinois and northwest Indiana. “The reality is we need hospitals and we need them to identify potential donors. We need them to call us in a timely fashion. We need them to help us take care of families from the beginning.”