About 2.5 million adults die every year in the U.S. Of those, only about 15,000 die in a manner that allows their organs to be recovered. (Note that not all people who are eligible to donate do, and not all donated organs are used.) Specifically, to be eligible to donate, the donor must first be declared brain-dead. The organs must be healthy and disease-free. They must be recovered soon after death in order to keep them viable. And the donor must die in a hospital rather than at home.

That last requirement may change soon. New York City, with support from the federal government and the local organ procurement organization (OPO), has launched a pilot program to see if a mobile unit can identify and transport deceased donors who have died at home.

An article in today’s Wall St. J. (subscription required) outlines the program which starts today and will continue until next May. Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, Herbert Adams Professor and chair, of Emergency Medicine, NYU School of Medicine and Director of Emergency Services at Bellevue Hospital Center explains the program.

“The overwhelming majority of those who choose to become organ donors cannot realize their wishes, since most deaths occur outside of a hospital. The new Organ Preservation Unit hopes to meet the desires of those willing to become organ donors upon death, wherever death occurs. If our pilot is as successful as the experiences in Spain and France, New Yorkers will not have to wait an extended period of time for life-saving kidney transplants.”

During the pilot, Manhattan’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) calls will be monitored by a specially trained Organ Preservation team, composed of a Family Services Specialist from the New York Organ Donation Network, a licensed emergency physician and two EMT trained organ preservation specialists. The team will respond in instances where all resuscitation efforts have failed. If there is an organ donor card available, or if the deceased was registered on the New York State Donor Registry, the team will ask the family to honor those wishes by transporting the deceased in the organ preservation ambulance to Bellevue Hospital where OPO surgeons will recover the organs.

It isn’t known how many additional donors will be made eligible by including people who die at home. Dr. Bradley Kaufman, a division medical director with the New York Fire Department says it’s possible the criteria are so stringent there won’t be any kidneys preserved for donation during the pilot period.

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