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Organ transplants.

March 25, 2012

I heard today that Dick Cheney received a heart transplant (see news story here).  As often happens when a celebrity gets a transplanted organ, people are speculating about fairness.  Did he get his transplanted heart sooner because he is rich and famous?  I must confess ignorance of the finer points of the decision making process for who gets the organs, but I actually find it doubtful.  Richer people may have a better chance of getting a transplant, not because they get moved up the list faster, but because they can guarantee their ability to obtain the required (expensive) follow up care for the rest of their lives.  Medicaid programs do cover transplantation and follow up care, but coverage varies by state.  Here’s an article from ABC News about Medicaid cuts in Arizona and the effect on people waiting for transplant.  The ABC article also discusses ways transplant centers assist people to locate funding for transplants.

I have been personally involved in the transplant process in my work as a critical care nurse.  One thing most people don’t realize is that organs can only be recovered from people who suffer a brain injury and are on mechanical ventilation.  People who die of other causes may be able to donate tissues such as corneas, skin, or bone, but to donate organs such as heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, etc., the person must be on a ventilator (“life support”) and become brain dead.  I have cared for people who had devastating, unsurvivable strokes or hypoxic brain injuries who became organ donors.  Many families find solace and meaning in being able to help others after such a sudden and tragic loss.

The Texas Organ Sharing Alliance is the procurement organization for my area.  Their website has a wealth of information about the process of organ donation, including facts about donation, myths, and positions of many religions regarding organ donation.  I have worked closely with their transplant coordinators on a number of occasions and have always been impressed by their dedication and professionalism.

I’ve heard a lot of sniping today about Cheney’s new heart.  I don’t like the man, but I don’t begrudge him this chance to spend more time with his family and friends.  Perhaps his story will make more people aware of organ donation and the difference it makes for recipients and their families.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. frykwoman permalink
    March 26, 2012 8:51 am

    I agree– I don’t particularly like the man, but I wouldn’t hold him back from a heart transplant because of his personality or politics. I’m not a vengeful person.
    Cheney’s heart seems to open a big conversation about equity in health care, and allows us some context to start it. I do think, however, that the concern is a little misplaced, and agree that the aftercare portion of the transplant is where most inequities lie.
    I’d love to hear from more people with experience as heart recipients.
    I’ll pass this on to folks at WomenHeart Inspire.

  2. noahsgrannie permalink
    March 28, 2012 11:41 am

    Cheney has finally gotten his first heart; maybe it will make him a better human being!

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