Record 1,960 Eye and Tissue Donors in 2008 Benefit Tens of Thousands
LOS ANGELES, April 14 /PRNewswire/ -- OneLegacy, the non-profit, federally designated organ and tissue recovery organization serving the seven-county greater Los Angeles area, has within the last year become the largest tissue recovery organization in the world, helping tens of thousands in need of cornea, bone, skin and other tissue transplants to lead more fulfilling lives.
Last year, OneLegacy recovered tissue from 1,960 donors, a 34 percent increase over the year prior and more than double the total from 2006. Of these donors, OneLegacy recovered corneas from 1,116; bone from 1,243; skin from 1,237; heart valves from 361; and veins from 226.
The astonishing growth of OneLegacy's tissue operations is a direct result of the organization's efforts to fulfill the growing need for tissue allografts, including corneas to prevent blindness; skin for healing burns; bone for fractures and to prevent amputation; heart valves to repair genetic defects; tendons for reconstructive knee surgeries; and veins for cardiac bypass surgery.
"The building of our tissue recovery capabilities, coupled with the generosity of donors and their families, has placed Los Angeles as the capital of tissue donation, giving us the opportunity to save and enhance 100,000 people's lives each year," said Tom Mone, chief executive officer and executive vice president of OneLegacy.
OneLegacy recovers tissue from deceased donors at hospitals, coroner offices and funeral homes, and then distributes the recovered tissue to large "processors" that prepare the allografts for medical application. Among OneLegacy's partners are Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation (MTF), Tissue Banks International (TBI), CryoLife and RTI Donor Services.
A tissue recovery agency since 2003, OneLegacy has consolidated tissue recovery in the Los Angeles area over the past several years. "Historically, it was too easy to become a 'tissue bank' and many of them were not prepared to meet the rising standards of tissue recovery demanded by the FDA and the medical community," said Mone. "OneLegacy chose to extend our work in organ recovery to ensure the highest level of professionalism in the field, especially in view of isolated cases regarding tissue recovery that unsettled the industry and the public. And, of course, our donor families and healthcare professionals know that the generosity and value of the decision to donate is the same for tissue and organ."
In 2008, OneLegacy implemented an innovative plan to increase the quality of approaches to the families of potential tissue donors, 75 percent of whom are approached for consent via phone within hours of death. Until August of last year, local families had been approached for consent by a contracted provider. OneLegacy has since established a tissue operations facility with a family care center employing 28 highly trained consenters; four teams of tissue recovery technicians; centralized supplies and sterilization; and additional staff who work closely with hospitals, coroner offices and funeral homes.
Last year, OneLegacy received 57,000 calls reporting deaths, of which 2,200 a month - an average of 73 a day - were determined after an initial medical screening to be from potential donors.
"Subsequent safeguarding evaluations to determine the medical and social history of the potential donor resulted in approximately 1,110 families per month being presented with the opportunity to donate tissue. Of these, approximately 350 families, or 32 percent of those approached, embraced the chance to save and heal lives by donating tissue," indicated Prasad Garimella, OneLegacy's chief operating officer and chief information officer.
As part of the expanded operations, OneLegacy has been focusing on donors who would have been ruled out by other organizations, among them deceased patients age 80 and over who can be eligible to donate bone and skin. In fact, skin from older donors can be preferable because it does not have the elasticity of skin recovered from younger donors.
Also, many potential donors are ruled out because they suffer from cancer and are not eligible to donate tissue. However, because this disease does not affect the corneas, OneLegacy has focused on expanding the opportunity to prevent or cure blindness through these donors.
The 28 staff members responsible for approaching families are highly trained to make an initial assessment of whether a potential donor's tissues are medically safe for transplantation, as well as to sensitively interact with a family within a few hours of their loved one's passing.
"It is a hard phone call to make at such an emotional time for the family, but it is the only way many patients can live without pain, return to full mobility, or regain their sight," said Tami Bryant, family care manager. "It's also an opportunity for the potential donor's family to gain comfort by giving life to others and leaving a legacy of compassion for their loved one."
While many families and individuals say "yes" to donation, deeply held misconceptions about tissue donation may impact their decision. Some families fear their loved one will be disfigured, which is not the case since the surgical procedure includes reconstruction and allows for an open-casket funeral. Other families believe their religion does not support this practice, when in fact all major religions in the world (with the exception of Shinto) approve of organ and tissue donation.
"We offer the highest respect to the donor and family throughout the process, from the initial approach and tissue recovery to the transport of the body to the funeral home," said Mone. "Serving families and our community in this meaningful way is a privilege, and respect for the families we serve guides us at every step."
OneLegacy is the non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation in the seven-county greater Los Angeles area. With more than 200 hospitals, 12 transplant centers and a diverse population of 19 million, OneLegacy is the largest organ and tissue recovery agency in the world.
Those wishing to make the commitment to donate may register online at www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org or its Spanish-language counterpart, www.doneVIDAcalifornia.org. For more information, call OneLegacy at (800) 786-4077 or visit www.onelegacy.org.
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