In response to the Star Tribune’s editorial “To save lives, close ‘gift of life’ gap” (Oct. 17), we wholeheartedly agree with that headline. At LifeSource, we are relentlessly pursuing a day when no one dies waiting for an organ transplant; that vision drives our team of 150 professionals to innovate, problem-solve and advance every day.
Unfortunately, many of the questions the editorial raises are based on inaccurate information and understanding of who is eligible to donate.
LifeSource, Minnesota’s organ procurement organization (OPO), is one of the top performing OPOs in the country. We serve Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota and save lives every day through organ, eye and tissue donation.
Donation is truly a rare event. Organ donors have to meet an extensive number of criteria: pass away in a hospital on a ventilator, pass a host of medical tests, be free of cancer and organ damage, and most important, be willing to donate. As a result, less than 2% of people who check the box will become organ donors.
That means that as an OPO, we must be extraordinarily vigilant when we receive a referral from a hospital. We assess every potential donor, every organ, every time.
Minnesota has long been a leader both nationally and internationally in organ donation — and the momentum to further improve the donation process is only growing.
In our service area (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota), 70% of residents have registered to be donors compared with the 59% national average. And in 2017, 2018 and 2019, LifeSource achieved the highest level of organ donors in our 30-year history. Year-over-year, we saw a 22% increase in individual organ donors and a 27% increase in organs transplanted.
Minnesotans now can designate themselves as donors on their hunting and fishing licenses — in addition to their driver’s license and online at donatelifemn.org. We are the first in the country to do that.
Minnesota is a hub for technology and innovation, and we are actively partnering with researchers and experts to bring that technology to donation. We collaborate with hospitals to advance clinical practices in donation. We work with transplant centers to implement technologies such as hearts and lungs “in a box” which improve function of organs that wouldn’t otherwise meet stringent guidelines for transplantation. These advancements increase the number of donors and make more transplants possible.
LifeSource, along with many Minnesota community and medical partners, advocates for and helps pass important practices and policies that expands access to transplantation. In 2013, we supported the HOPE Act, which opened the door for HIV-positive candidates to receive and donate organs.
Despite the exciting progress, we need to do more. We support a standardized metric that provides a meaningful and independent method for assessing performance. I’ve personally been engaged in national efforts to develop such a metric and specific policy recommendations.
We welcome opportunities for improvement. Our work would not happen without the support, insight and expertise from our hospital partners, government agency partners, research partners, transplant centers, and most important, donor families. Donation is not successful because of one person or organization — it relies on an ecosystem of individuals and organizations.
We must tackle these challenges together. Patients awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant are counting on all of us to do our part to help others through these generous gifts of donation.
Susan Gunderson is chief executive of LifeSource.