More than 100,000 people across the U.S. need organ transplants. In Nevada, 217 people are waiting for kidney or kidney/pancreas transplants, the only type of transplant surgery performed in this state.
Not long ago, the topic of organ donation was a quiet whisper. Back then, debate took the form of ethical questioning: should we be transplanting organs? Today, the discussion revolves around the severe organ shortage and philosophical concerns, such as fairness in awarding organs to those most in need.
In Nevada, the Nevada Donor Network (NDN), and its executive director, Ken Richardson, lead the public dialogue on organ donation. Through their efforts, Nevada citizens, who formerly knew little about organ donation, are now automatically asked to be donors when applying for driver licenses at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
NDN is one of the few organ procurement agencies in the country to manage the recovery of organs, tissues and eyes in the same facility, making Nevada progressive in the field of organ and tissue procurement. In addition, the NDN also tests donors and recipients for tissue-typing before organ transplantation.
Yet, according to Richardson, the state has a long way to go. “Nevada needs a multi-organ transplant center. Right now kidney and kidney/pancreas are the only organ transplants to be performed in Southern Nevada, and only at Sunrise Hospital Medical Center and University Medical Center. Additionally, there is a need to increase organ donations,” added Richardson. “The donor shortage is a public health crisis nationwide.” In 2005, although more than 100,000 people were candidates for transplants, only about 28,000 organ transplants were performed. Nearly 18 people died each day in 2005 because no organs were available.
Anatomical Donation Leads to Medical Advances
Even among those comfortable with organ donation, discussing the subject of whole-body donation can be an awkward conversation. Yet, it would be a safe bet to say that every transplant surgeon practiced his or her first surgical transplant on a cadaver, and with each technological advance, physicians practice new procedures on cadavers before performing surgery on a live patient.
“The public’s understanding and acceptance of whole-body donation is an essential step in the ongoing educational process of physicians. It is through the generosity of individuals who donate their bodies to science for medical education that in-depth study of the human body can be conducted. Because of whole-body donation, countless individuals enjoy a better quality of life,” said Dr. Michael J. Crovetti, founder of the Henderson-based Medical Education & Research Institute of Nevada (MERIN).
A non-profit organization, MERIN is a venue where surgeons learn new surgical procedures and test new surgical instruments and techniques. Through cooperative efforts with the public and private sectors, and through its public education programs such as Generations: An Anatomical Donation Program, MERIN is a leader in helping to bring advances that ultimately may result in improved healthcare delivery, less invasive operations, improved surgical outcomes, shorter patient recovery time and fewer post-surgical infections.
“In creating the MERIN Generations program, it’s become clear that even people who are organ donors have limited knowledge of, or a comfort level with, whole-body donation. We are working to educate Nevadans about the importance of whole-body donation,” said Crovetti.
In Southern Nevada, anatomical donations can be made to MERIN. In Northern Nevada, donations can be made to the UNR School of Medicine. According to Richardson and Crovetti, an individual can choose to be both an organ donor and a whole-body donor.
The Nevada Donor Network can be reached at 702-796-8222 or www.nvdonor.org. MERIN can be reached at 702-933-5627 or www.merinv.org.