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"They called and let us know when the plane left. They called and let us know when it landed. They called at 2 a.m." to say his heart and both kidneys had gone to three different recipients, plus tissue and bones to help 50 others, she said. "It really made us realize how much organ donors are heroes. We had no clue how many lives one person could save and change."
It's not just transplant recipients' lives that could be saved. Fewer staffers need to make the trip. A report found the risk of dying while flying to retrieve organs is 1,000 times greater than on a commercial flight; there have been at least 30 such deaths since 1990.
In 2007, a plane carrying two surgeons and two transplant donation specialists crashed on its way from Milwaukee to Michigan with donated lungs. All four plus the two pilots were killed. In 2011, a pilot, a doctor and a medical technician on their way from Jacksonville to Gainesville to pick up a heart died when their helicopter crashed. In 1990, a surgeon and an assistant picking up a heart were killed in a plane crash in New Mexico.
"Sadly, our teams are doing a lot of running around like that. We do put team members at risk," said Charlie Alexander, executive director at The Living Legacy, the organ procurement group for Maryland.
"There are clearly benefits" in safety to having a single organ retrieval center and fewer people traveling, he said.