Intermountain Healthcare performed a record 222 adult patient abdominal organ transplants in 2020 thanks to organ donors and a transplant program committed to key safety protocols to ensure that these lifesaving procedures continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019 the Intermountain Transplant Program performed 186 transplants, which was a record year at the time. The biggest increase in 2020 was in liver transplantation, which jumped from 53 in 2019 to 79 in 2020.
“In an unprecedented year, we could not have given so many people new leases on lives without the generosity of so many deceased and living donors and their families,” said Diane Alonso, MD, transplant surgeon and medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s abdominal transplant program. “We are honored to be stewards of these selfless gifts.”
United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) reported a six percent increase in organ donation for deceased donors in the United States in 2020. That’s the 10th consecutive year of setting an all-time record.
A total of 12,587 people donated one or more organs to save the life or improve the life of another, which resulted in more than 33,000 people receiving life-saving transplants.
There are currently more than 108,000 people on organ transplant waiting lists in the United States. In Utah, there are 773 people waiting for an organ.
Here are some of the lives that were changed in 2020 due to organ donation at Intermountain:
– Makelle Groves, 23, Sandy, Utah: Groves was born with a liver disease and had been on-and-off the transplant list and in-and-out of hospitals repeatedly her whole life. In 2019, shortly after getting married, her health began to deteriorate and on February 22, 2020 she was offered what she calls, “the perfect liver.” The day of the transplant her heart broke for the donor’s family and says she feels a great responsibility to dedicate her life to her donor. “I always wanted to have kids but couldn’t. Now I can,” said Groves. “I’ve got a second chance at life with a family.”
– Sam Hoopes, 31, Duchesne, Utah: Hoopes had always been fairly healthy. He is an active former college basketball player who now works as a high school counselor and girls’ basketball coach. However, a few years ago he was diagnosed with PSC (primary sclerosing cholangitis), where the bile ducts in the liver become inflamed and blocked. When he was told he needed a transplant, he immediately thought one of his three brothers would be a possible match. But to his surprise, it was his best friend and brother-in-law, Derek Herrera, who was a perfect match.
“Derek is a hero to me,” said Hoopes. Herrera says he’s not a hero, but it’s a life changing experience to help a loved one. Hoopes says he now has a chance to be himself again and hopes the liver will outlast him as he and his wife raise their three kids and he gets back to mentoring and coaching in the Duchesne community.
– Dejaun Ashley, 38, Las Vegas: While others were saying goodbye to 2020, Ashley was welcoming a new lease on life thanks to COVID-19. A recipient higher on the transplant list had tested positive for COVID-19, moving Ashley up on the list to receive a kidney if he could get to the hospital quickly, which he did.
After not addressing his high blood pressure in his 20’s, Ashley found himself on dialysis three times a week, for the last three years. Just a month later after receiving his new kidney, Ashley already has more energy, better breathing, and a reminder to everyone: “Don’t take life for granted. It can change in a minute.”
– Ron Lindsay, 43, Highland, Utah: Just three years ago doctors diagnosed Lindsay with a rare type of liver sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease of the organs. Lindsay really thought by just controlling his diabetes that his symptoms would go away. However, in 2020 Lindsay saw his health deteriorate to the point where he couldn’t even walk and needed a liver transplant.
He received his transplant on December 10, 2020. His donor had donated all of his organs to various recipients. “I can’t ever repay the debt,” said Lindsay. “Words are just insufficient to adequately express my gratitude.” Lindsay is now back to being active and he and his wife are looking forward to seeing their six kids, ages 4 to 24, grow up.
To continue these life-saving procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Intermountain Transplant Program, which is based at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, implemented key safety protocols and turned to telemedicine and tele-video visits whenever possible to continue evaluating and treating potential transplant patients.
“During an unimaginable year and one many would like to forget - Intermountain and the populations of Utah, Idaho and Nevada through organ donation created a record number of opportunities to save the lives of others,” said Richard Gilroy, MD, transplant hepatologist and Intermountain Healthcare’s liver transplant medical director. “And despite the barriers and challenges of COVID-19, transplant patients were a population that saw a rare silver lining to the pandemic.”
The Intermountain Transplant Program, which serves patients throughout the nation, and partners with DonorConnect, the organ procurement agency for Utah and the Intermountain West, also continues to be the only transplant program in Utah to participate in a paired kidney exchange program with the National Kidney Registry. These partnerships facilitates even more transplants for incompatible pairs or recipients than in years past.
“Participating in the National Kidney Registry, improves our recipient’s best chance of finding a well-matched donor,” said Donald Morris, MD, nephrologist and Intermountain Healthcare’s kidney transplant medical director. “Transplantation then gets them back to their families and living a full and active life.”
These 2020 record numbers also come despite Intermountain pausing its living donor program for a short time in the spring when COVID-19 initially struck.
To learn more about organ donation or register to become an organ donor, go to intermountainhealthcare.org/donatelife.