Before the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, made the heart and lung transplantation organ allocation change in November 2017, the United States was divided into 58 local donor service areas. People on the heart and lung transplant list were first matched with donors within their service areas, even if another potential match was closer geographically.
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Jonathan D’Cunha, MD, PhD, FACS, Chief of Lung Transplantation at UPMC said, “Prior to Thanksgiving of last year we had donor service areas where the lungs were allocated first to the area based on severity of illness. And then they went out to the national pool after that, after the local centers passed on the lungs. So, what happened was there was actually a lawsuit last fall around the time of Thanksgiving where one of these lines that was drawn, there was a sick patient across the border.”
This change is making a difference for many patients: “Prior to Thanksgiving, patients on our wait list would wait somewhere between 175 and 200 days. And now you’re transplanting people within 25 to 35 days currently,” said Dr. D’Cunha.
Many people with lung disease, cystic fibrosis is an example, face the possibility of a lung transplant. Lung transplantation can extend and improve the quality of life, but it involves an extensive evaluation process and a commitment to living the lifestyle required to keep your new lungs healthy. Donors may have previously agreed, in the case of their death, to give their healthy lungs to people who need them. However, it is vital that a person who wishes to donate their organs at the time of death have a discussion with their families of their expressed wish. If a person dies unexpectedly and has not previously indicated whether his or her organs may be donated to those in need, the family may give doctors permission to donate their loved one’s lungs.