- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

RICHMOND Lori Gore spent the final day of 2001 on a mission: find a recipient for a kidney from a 42-year-old Miami man who died in a car crash.

After almost four hours, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) employee succeeded. A 38-year-old man in Chicago was a perfect match for the available kidney.

"It worked," Miss Gore said with a smile on Monday. "It makes your week. It's the whole reason that you come in here at six in the morning."

While many people took New Year's Eve off to stretch the weekend into a four-day holiday, it was lifesaving business at usual at the UNOS Organ Center.

Every day, Richmond-based UNOS receives reports of a dozen or so deceased patients who have donated their organs. Miss Gore and 16 other organ placement specialists work in 12-hour shifts around the clock to match and oversee the distribution of donated organs.

It also receives reports about every patient placed on a transplant hospital's waiting list.

Almost 80,000 people are on organ transplant waiting lists for 85,000 organs. The number of organs needed exceeds the number of people on the waiting list because some patients need multiple transplants.

Last year, almost 23,000 transplants were performed and more than 5,700 people died waiting for an organ.

The center's specialists search for potential matches using a national computer system, which ranks the patients' compatibility based on a variety of objective medical criteria, including blood type, organ size, medical urgency of the patient, time spent on the waiting list and distance between donor and recipient.

They go through a list of potential recipients at hospitals nationwide until they can place the organ, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 36 hours. Details of successful matches are not disclosed to preserve patients' privacy.

"You have to get the right organ to the right patient at the right time," said Roger Brown, manager of the Organ Center. "It's pretty tricky."

Preservation time varies for each organ, from four to six hours for hearts and lungs, 12 to 24 hours for livers and pancreases and 48 to 72 hours for kidneys.

The specialists arrange for the organ to be flown, either commercially or chartered, or driven to the site of the transplant.

Transportation has been a challenge since the September 11 terrorist attacks because of tightened security measures at airports, Mr. Brown said.

The organs used to travel separately in the cockpit but now remain with other cargo, and they must go through time-consuming screening processes with all other packages, he said.

"It kills you when you've got a good organ and can't give it away or get it transported on time," he said.

Organ placement specialist Troy Gregory said he has to remind himself not to get overwhelmed by the job.

"It's hard not to think about death when you've got organs from 6-year-olds to deal with, but you've got to get over it," Mr. Gregory said. "It's a really rewarding job, but you need to stay calm."


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