Local News

How Fair Is Selection Process For Organ Transplants?

Posted February 21, 2003

— Jesica Santillan received a second organ transplant after officials made a mistake by giving her organs with the wrong blood type. With so many people in need of organ transplants, how do you decide who gets available organs?

According to

United Network for OrganSharing

(UNOS), recipients are chosen by compatibility to the organ, medical urgency, and then other factors like how long you've been waiting and proximity to the donor. UNOS says the process is all computerized, so status or media pressure do not come into play.

Jonas Brown, 55, of Durham has spent more than eight years on dialysis waiting for a kidney. He admits there are times he wonders why others get organs and he does not.

"You have to [wonder] when you are this sick and you have been on dialysis this long and when you know of some folks that come and been on it for a year, some for six months," he said.

Brown, along with Jesica Santillan's family and friends, believe the intense media attention on Duke's botched transplant helped the teenager get a second set of organs quickly.

"All I can credit it to is an utter miracle, It is a miracle. That's all I can say about it. I don't know what else to call it," said Renee McCormick, a friend of the Santillan family.

National donor banks and Duke University Hospitals officials contend it was not pressure, but Jessica's grave condition and compatibility.

"We were very interested and very grateful for the opportunity to be able to transplant Jesica's [organs], but we did nothing to move her up and down on the list," said Duke surgeon Dr. Duane Davis.

Brown said he is happy for Jesica, but now he hopes all the media attention will convince the public to help others like him.

"I'm hoping for the gift of life also," he said.

The issue has also raised questions about the Santillans' immigration status. According to Jessica's family spokesman Mack Mahoney, he started helping the Santillans seek legal residential status a few years ago. He said then-Sen. Jesse Helms helped get them into the Amnesty program to clear those hurdles.

According to UNOS, immigration status does not come into play whether a person is accepted into the donor program. However, transplant centers are supposed to limit procedures for non-U.S. residents to 5 percent of all organ transplants.


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