NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — While hospitals across the country experienced a steep decline in organ transplants during the coronavirus pandemic, experts say Virginia fared better than other states.
The Centers for Disease Control reports organ transplants decreased during the initial outbreak, but hospitals are bouncing back.
“The COVID-19 pandemic impacted clinical operations and resources at many hospitals, transplant centers, and organ procurement organizations across the nation. Experts in the organ donation and transplantation community have carefully evaluated the risk of COVID-19 among organ transplant candidates and potential organ donors. Although there was a decrease in the number of organ transplants being performed in the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number is beginning to increase.”CDC
Sentara Healthcare opted to delay elective donor surgeries for a short period for safety during the pandemic. Margaret Sullivan, the Director of Transplant Service said new federal precautions are in place for deceased donors.
“If they have had COVID, of course, they wouldn’t go any further. They would not be able to be donated,” said Sullivan.
Living donors that test positive for COVID-19 must recover before organs or tissue can be transferred. Sullivan says there are currently 600 people on the donor waitlist at Sentara.
Doug Wilson, the Executive Vice President of LifeNet said every part of the country has been impacted differently based on the circumstances. However, Virginia has exceeded the number of transplants from this time last year.
“We facilitated donations from more than 125 organ donors and those gifts have been able to touch over 300 different people in transplants.”
Wilson’s hope, though, is to transplant everyone on the waiting lists.
While 60% of Virginians are signed up to be an organ donor, according to LifeNet, there is always a need for more.
Newport News native Quette Brown-Fletcher is committed to promoting organ donation. Speaking from personal experience, she told 10 On Your Side, “You never know, it could be someone close to you. It could be a neighbor, it could be a friend, it could be you.”
She created a non-profit organization called the BreatheEZ Foundation. The organization promotes healthy lifestyles, organ donation education, and assistance for caregivers. The 501c3 was inspired by her husband, Derek Fletcher. He received a bilateral (double) lung transplant at the University of Virginia in 2018.
“I saw this man that was struggling to breathe – who could finally breathe! It was so surreal.” In 2008, Fletcher was rescued from a house fire in Newport News. He was listed in critical condition and suffered severe smoke inhalation.
A decade later, his family is celebrating the gift of life he received with his donated lungs, affectionately named Grace and Mercy.
“He is able to work. He is able to be involved with our son. So it is amazing. If someone hadn’t decided to become an organ donor I wouldn’t have my husband today,” said Quette.
She admits going through the transfer while driving back and forth to Charlottesville was stressful at times. Fletcher had stomach complications, which resulted in one lung rejecting.
“I remember tears rolling down my eyes… it was tough,” recalled Quette.
As the Breathe EZ foundation celebrates its first anniversary this Saturday, she wants more people to learn the truth about organ donation.
“A lot of times, we grow up with a different understanding of things. Just get the facts, get the information. The least you can do is pull up the information, read about it. If you have any questions call us, email us.”