NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Inside Vanderbilt University Medical Center sits a girl surrounded by love, family and Legos.
“It gets boring sometimes, but you know, I have Legos,” said Filicia McEuen on speakerphone with her father in Kingston.
Filicia is one of more than 100,000 people waiting for an organ transplant. For her specifically, she is in need of a heart.
“I remember what my daughter told me, that ‘Mom, I wish I got my heart that way I’d be a healthy and regular kid,'” remembered Geraldine McEuen, Filicia’s mother.
Filicia was born with holes in her heart. For a time, she was able to stay at home with the help of a pacemaker. Then, things changed when she had to stay at Vanderbilt University Medical Center until she received a heart.
“The transplants happen because some other family is having the worst day of their life. People get sick when they get sick,” said Dr. Ashish Shah, who is the director of heart transplants at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
This week, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced there would be changes to the organ transplant system. The hope is to address problems such as long wait times and damaged or unused organs that seem to plague the system.
“Every day, patients and families across the United States rely on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to save the lives of their loved ones who experience organ failure,” said Carole Johnson, HRSA administrator. “At HRSA, our stewardship and oversight of this vital work is a top priority. That is why we are taking action to both bring greater transparency to the system and to reform and modernize the OPTN. The individuals and families that depend on this life-saving work deserve no less.”
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Another goal is to take some of the responsibilities off of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which has been the sole overseer of the nation’s transplant system for decades, and spread it to different companies.
“I think the US has led the world in doing some remarkable things in transplant, but I think the organization of transplant has really been patchwork together over decades to the point where I think nobody’s happy with how this all looks,” said Dr. Shah.
New innovation is already helping the system, like the Organ Care System (OCS), better known as “the heart in a box.” Currently, surgeons work to transplant a heart within four hours after it has been harvested from the donor’s body. OCS can extend that time frame, allowing the heart to withstand longer periods of time outside of the body. It is already being used by Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“Programs in all parts of the country, particularly where we are in Tennessee, need to have access to organs the same way that programs in New York and California would like to have access to. It’s a tough conversation to have,” Dr. Shah said.
Right now, no word yet on when or how changes will roll out.