CHARLOTTE — The number of donors and transplants performed in the first half of 2020 in North Carolina reached all-time highs, thanks to the generous gift of life from organ and tissue donors and their families.
North Carolina’s organ and tissue recovery organizations, Carolina Donor Services and LifeShare Carolinas, have announced that a record 213 deceased organ donors saved 601 lives. This was an 18% increase in organ donors and a 12% increase in lives saved over the same time in 2019. Though there was a 6% decrease in tissue donors from the previous year, there was a 15% increase in total tissues recovered.
The state’s eye recovery organizations, LifeShare Carolinas and Miracles in Sight, were greatly affected by COVID-19, as corneal transplants were considered an elective surgery. As a result, cornea donation was halted temporarily, and the state’s eye banks saw a 29% decrease from the past year.
While deceased organ transplant surgeries were deemed essential, COVID-19 affected the North Carolina recovery organizations in other ways. Hospitals enforced stricter requirements, families were separated from dying loved ones, all potential donors who tested COVID-19 positive were medically ruled out, and elective surgeries for tissue, corneal and living organ transplants were postponed.
Another major impact came when a large number of N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles offices were temporarily closed. The DMV is where 99% of registered organ, eye and tissue donors make that decision. This resulted in a drop in the number of people signing up as donors.
“Quickly, we realized that we needed to change our approach to grieving families and our internal processes to address hospital requirements and COVID-19 testing,” said Danielle Niedfeldt, president and CEO of Carolina Donor Services. “Throughout all of it, families were strongly committed to their loved one’s decisions to be donors. And, when a decision was not known, many families said 'yes' to donation because they wanted something positive to come from such a difficult time.”
Michael Daniels, executive director and CEO of LifeShare Carolinas, was pleased to hear about the increase in transplants this year.
“We are proud of our accomplishments and our ability to facilitate these generous gifts of life,” he said. “This was a team effort to save lives that includes our staff, board of directors, donor hospitals, transplant centers, DMV, Donate Life North Carolina and, most importantly, our donors and their families. These numbers are a testament to those who say ‘yes’ to donation and all the partners who work so hard to make donation and transplantation possible.
"Still, more must be done. The rate of North Carolinians who have registered as donors, 54%, is below the national average of 59%. That is something we are always working to improve across the state.”
Nationally, more than 109,000 men, women, and children, including more 3,000 North Carolinians, are awaiting lifesaving organ transplants.
“Organ donation is rare,” Niedfeldt said. “While most of the population can be tissue donors at their time of death, only a little more than one-half of a percent of total deaths result in organ donation. This why our teams work so incredibly hard to save lives.”
To register your decision to become an organ, eye and tissue donor, visit DonateLifeNC.org or call 800-932-GIVE (4483).