New rules make donating an organ easier

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/10/98.

A new rule recently published in the Federal Register makes organ donation easier by requiring hospitals to report every death to the local donation agencies that coordinate life-saving and sight-saving transplants.

The new rule was issued by the Health Care Financing Administration that oversees Medicare and Medicaid. Its goal is to give every family of a potential donor the option of eye, organ and tissue donation.

Minnesota hospitals will work with the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, LifeSource and American Red Cross Tissue Services to ensure that the family of every potential donor knows of their option to donate a loved oneís eyes, organs and tissues.

ďSince we mailed letters to hospital administrators advising them of the new rule, we have received donor referrals from hospitals that have never referred to us before,Ē Carol Engel, executive director of the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, said. ďWe believe this is directly attributed to the ruling.Ē

The cornea is the clear, contact lens-shaped window of tissue in the front of the eye. It is the only part of the eye that is regularly transplanted. But transplant will not occur simply because a person carries a donor card or has ďdonorĒ printed on the driverís license; the deceasedís family must also give permission at the time of death, according to the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank.

Since 1960, more than 500,000 corneal transplants have been performed nationally. The Minnesota Lions Eye Bank provides more than 600 patients in the state with restored vision each year through the program. This year, the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank will provide tissue for its 10,000th corneal transplant.

There are 3.34 million people in Minnesota with driverís license, but only 1.2 million have indicated they will be donors.

Bev Mueller, assistant administrator at the Paynesville Area Health Care System, said they have had very few patients become donors since the new ruling went into effect. ďMost of our patients have not been accepted because of age,Ē Mueller said.

Donor information service states the upper age limit for a donor is 85, depending on the condition of their health at the time of their death.

LifeSource was formed in late 1987 and is the sole organization, selected by the federal government, which manages all organ donation activities for Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and areas of Wisconsin.

Their mission is to promote organ donation to benefit the greatest number of people through transplantation.

LifeSource manages all aspects of organ donation, from identifying potential organ donors, to matching organs with needy recipients, coor-dinating clinical activities, and arranging surgical recovery teams.

LifeSource is responsible for all expenses related to organ procurement. Funding for organ procurement activities is derived from standard procurement fees charged to the transplant centers receiving the organs. Under Medicare regulations, transplant centers can only receive organs from a federally designated organ procurement organ-ization.

According to Sandy Larsen at LifeSource, there is an organ shortage in the region (Minnesota, North and South Dakota). Last year, 565 patients benefitted from 150 donors. However, there are still 1,422 people awaiting life saving transplants.

Each donor has the potential of donating eight organs, according to Larsen. They are kidney, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines.

For more information about eye, organ and tissue donation, call 1-888-536-6283 or 1-888-5-DONATE.

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