There has been a remarkable acceleration in B.C.’s organ-transplant program. Ten years ago, we had one of the worst records in Canada. Today, our rates have doubled, and we are first in the country. How did this come about?
There are two immediate parts to this story. One is that in years gone by, organ retrieval was not always a priority in hospital ICUs.
B.C. Transplant — the agency responsible for overseeing organ recovery — took the step of encouraging hospitals to hire transplant co-ordinators. This brought focus and physician buy-in to what had been, at best, a haphazard process.
This turnaround is one of the major success stories in our provincial health-care system. Credit is due to all involved.
The second part is more difficult to tell, because it involves an element of tragedy. A decade ago in B.C., the number of organs collected from people who died of opioid overdoses represented just five per cent of the total.
Because of the fentanyl crisis, today that figure is 30 per cent. This, too, has boosted the supply of recoverable organs.
It might be thought that tissues retrieved in this way would be unusable — that the fentanyl would be transmitted to the recipient. But organs are fully flushed before they are transplanted, and even in overdose cases, the amount of opioids at any one location in the body is small.
Painful as this is to relate, perhaps it might bring solace to family members who have lost a loved one to this devastating scourge.
But there are also forward-looking elements in the transplant picture. It is possible to create new organs using 3D computer printing. While the technology is still in the early stages, and not yet available in B.C., computer-printed bladders have already been transplanted in the U.S.
The implications are profound. Currently, 665 British Columbians are on the wait list for a transplant. Of these, more than 100 will die before an organ becomes available.
The problem is not a lack of public support. More than one million British Columbians have joined the donor registry. You can add your name online at transplant.bc.ca.
The problem is that historically, less than one per cent of fatalities occurred in a way that would enable a tissue transfer. Now that is changing.
Perhaps the day is not too far off when no one need die waiting for an organ transplant. — Victoria Times Colonist