Time is critical when it comes to facilitating organ transplants. Unpredictable ambulance diversions, flight cancellations and severe weather can hinder efforts to bring lifesaving organs to patients in need. Kidneys can survive 24 to 36 hours outside the body when appropriately packaged, but hearts and lungs are only viable for four to six hours.
Tennessee Donor Services, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-designated donor program, must sometimes find creative ways to overcome hurdles, whether it’s by shipping organs on alternative commercial flights, chartering private aircraft or having staff members drive across the country.
“We run into many different [challenges], but the thing we’re fighting … is time,” said Codey Tisdale, a Tennessee Donor Services first responder who moved into the organ recovery industry after working as a surgical technologist.
More than 42,800 organ transplants occurred in the United States last year, according to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit managing the country’s organ transplant system. Several dozen people—including patients, families, clinicians, recovery teams and couriers—engage in an organ exchange from start to finish.
“Coordinating is really an art,” said Jill Grandas, executive director of Tennessee Donor Services and a registered nurse.