LifeGift Expands Organ Recovery

The LifeGift Organ Donation Center is breaking ground on a new facility that will enable them to rescue more organ and tissue samples for people on waiting lists. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, more than 7,000 people are waiting for organs in Texas alone.

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"Roughly ten years ago now, my mother was killed in an automobile accident and we donated her organs not knowing that two years later I would come down with viral cardiomyopathy congestive heart failure and need a heart myself."

Houston resident Dallas Ford is in the unique position of being both a organ recipient and a donor family member. He was once one of the 2,500 people on the local LifeGift list for a transplant. LifeGift was formed 20 years ago and is just now moving into a facility of its own. President and CEO Sam Holtzman the 26,000-square-foot facility will house on-site operating rooms, which will allow them to recover more tissue donations.

"Most of our organ donors we recover in hospital operating rooms, but tissue donors -- many times we are moving tissue donors from one hospital to another hospital simply because the hospitals, their operating rooms are so busy that they won't let us use their operating rooms. So we're working in the middle of the night or sometimes we actually lose cases because we can't find an operating room to work in."

Organ centers only have about 24 hours between the time someone dies to the time the tissue must be transplanted to the recipient. Holtzman says because of the crowded operating rooms, they lose about ten percent of the tissue cases. The operating rooms will also potentially be used for organ recovery. That's something that's only been done in the hospital setting here in Houston, but Holtzman says a handful of facilities in other states are moving toward this method.

"This is already being done at a number of other organ procurement organizations across the country, so what we would be doing would be something that other places are doing too. And again, sometimes hospitals are just too busy to accomodate us and sometimes we run the risk of losing those organ donors and of course we lose organs, somebody's going to lose their life."

And Dallas Ford realizes he's a living example of that fact. If it hadn't been for LifeGift and for a family being willing to donate their loved one's organs, he wouldn't be here today.

"I'm eight years post-heart transplant. I have friends that are up to 20 years post-transplant. And the thing about it is that it's an opportunity, and I know it's a tragedy when a family loses a loved one, but by the same token I get to feel the joy of knowing that because we donated we probably helped two, three, maybe more families."

Ford says if there's one message he could convey it would be that everyone should sign up to be an organ donor. Texas maintains a state organ, tissue and eye donor registry. There's a link to it on our website kuhf dot org. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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