More and more North Carolina residents are registering their desire to be organ donors, and that generosity is providing the gift of life.
A record-breaking number of donations and transplants took place in 2019, involving the state’s largest organ and tissue recovery organization.
Carolina Donor Services, which serves 77 counties in North Carolina along with Danville, Va., reported last week that 265 deceased organ donors provided 811 organs for transplants.
This was a 37 percent increase in organ donors and a 32 percent increase in organs transplanted over 2018. Additionally, Carolina Donor Services increased its total tissue donors by 14 percent to 1,278 and increased total tissues recovered by 24 percent to 2,468, both new records, according to an announcement released by the organization.
Vidant Medical Center, one of the hospital’s served by Carolina Donor Services, performed 73 transplants from deceased donors, according to the agency. The hospital had a total of 87 transplants involving deceased and living donors.
Vidant surgeons perform three types of transplants: kidney, kidney and pancreas and pancreas after kidney transplants, which occurs when a person who previously received a kidney transplant later needs a pancreas, according to a hospital spokesman.
Some growth in donations is being driven by more people registering their decisions at the DMV and online, the donors’ next of kin authorizing donations and drug-related overdoses, Carolina Donor Services’ President and CEO Danielle Niedfeldt said.
There also has been a significant increase in the recovery of organs for transplant from donors after circulatory death, she said.
“I am proud of our accomplishments and our abilities to facilitate these generous gifts of life,” Niedfeldt said. “This was a team effort to save lives that includes our staff, board of directors, donor hospitals, transplant centers, DMV, and most importantly the selflessness of our donors and our donor families.”
Nationally, Carolina Donor Services joins other recovery organizations that have experienced increases in organ donors that projects to be nearly an 11 percent increase over 2018’s all-time high.
During the past two decades, U.S. organ donation has doubled to enable nearly 40,000 organs to be transplanted.
“These numbers are a testament to those who say “yes” to donation and all the partners that work so hard to make donation and transplantation possible,” Niedfeldt said. “Yet, more must be done, such as increasing the rate of North Carolinians who have registered their decisions to become donors.”
Currently, 56.3 percent of North Carolians are registered donors, which is below the national average 59.26 percent, she said.
There also should be more efforts to eliminate the waste of declined kidneys by recognizing the value of transplanting viable organs from increased-risk donors,” Niedfeldt said.
Organs from donors who died from overdoses are tested for diseases and checked to be sure that they are medically suitable to be transplanted, said a Carolina Donor Services spokeswoman. All organs, once recovered, are flushed. Recipients are notified of the situation and that it is high-risk.
Nationally, more than 113,000 men, women and children, including more 3,000 North Carolinians, are waiting for life-saving organ transplants.
“Though 2019 was extraordinary, Carolina Donor Services is ready to save even more lives in 2020,” Niedfeldt said.
In 2019, Carolina Donor Services’ Heart Heroes legislation became law on Oct. 1, after being adopted by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Now, the red heart on North Carolina drivers’ licenses and IDs includes tissue donation, along with organ and eye, and represents people’s legal decision to be a donor. A record number 1,352,973 North Carolinians registered their donation decisions through the DMV last year.
For more information about becoming a donor, visit CarolinaDonorServices.org.