NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the health of many people beyond those who’ve been infected.

That’s especially true for organ donations and transplants, which nearly came to a complete halt in the New York area during the height of the pandemic.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, there’s been bad news and surprising good news for organ donation and transplantation this year. The sad news is that three times the previous average number of people have died waiting for a transplant this year. The good news is that organ and tissue donations have rebounded beyond normal levels.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

When the pandemic hit the New York area, referrals of potential donors to New York’s organ procurement organization, LiveOn New York, skyrocketed from 80 calls a day to 600 a day. But as the president and CEO of LiveOn New York told Gomez, they were virtually all unusable.

“Every case that was referred to us was COVID positive or presumed COVID positive, to the point that we had to ask our hospitals to stop calling us and only call us if they felt the patient did not have COVID,” Helen Irving said.

Transplanting a COVID-infected organ or tissue into an immunosuppressed recipient would be almost certainly fatal. So potential donors, including living donors for kidneys and livers, went to nothing overnight. But now that hospitals are not overrun with COVID patients, both living and deceased donations have rebounded to pre-COVID levels.

“Last month, we had 31 families, and we were able to transplant 78 organs,” Irving said.

Sadly, because COVID causes multiple organ damage, there will soon be many more people needing transplants. Ironically, even though most of the Northeast is still catching up, nationally there have been more transplants in 2020 than at this time last year, and 2019 was a record year.

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