Organ donations reached record levels in Minnesota and neighboring states in 2017 — as did the number of people willing to donate in the future, according to the LifeSource organ procurement agency.
Decisions last year by 184 grieving families to donate the organs of dying loved ones resulted in 586 transplants, mostly to replace failing kidneys, livers, and hearts, the agency reported.
The 38 percent rise in donations since 2013 outpaced increases in the state’s population and deaths, suggesting that more people are willing to donate and make their intentions known on their driver’s licenses.
“Our strategies have really been around education and inspiration and telling the stories” of the way donations save lives, said Susan Gunderson, chief executive of Minneapolis-based LifeSource.
Social media has helped spread stories — such as the donation by an ex-football player that resulted in a recent heart and kidney transplant for Minnesota baseball legend Rod Carew.
As of last year, Minnesota also allowed people to register as organ donors while obtaining hunting licenses. This helped, Gunderson said, because men are more likely to get licenses and less likely to sign up as donors through other methods.
Among adults in the LifeSource region, which includes the Dakotas and western Wisconsin, 64 percent have registered as donors. Nationally, the rate is 54 percent.
Gunderson said a new in-house lab at LifeSource’s headquarters will shave hours off the time to complete blood tests before organs can be donated. That could increase future donations because grieving families sometimes balk at the delays. “These are families who have been through a lot,” she said.
Pancreas transplants, which were pioneered at the University of Minnesota, are declining amid advances in diabetes care. Cardiac implants are providing longer-lasting treatment, helping some patients avoid heart transplants. And new drugs are treating hepatitis C, which could prevent the need for liver transplants.
Even so, demand for transplants is rising. Procedures using organs from deceased donors have climbed 28 percent since 2003, federal data show. There were 28,587 such transplants in the U.S. last year.
In Minnesota, the waiting list for transplants stands at 2,904.