(WKBN) – While the pandemic feels like it has been going on for a long time, there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the virus for researchers and medical professionals. One specific thing they are learning more about is COVID-19’s effect on organ donation.
Currently, if a person has coronavirus, recovers and dies after recovering from the virus, that person can donate their organs, tissue and eyes. However, if the person died from the coronavirus, that person is not eligible to donate.
“It goes back to, we’re still learning so much about this virus and understanding it,” said Heather Mekesa, the chief operating officer of LifeBanc. “In two to five years, will that change? Absolutely.”
LifeBanc is based out of Warrensville Heights and serves 20 counties and 80 hospitals in Northeast Ohio. It is a nonprofit organization that specializes in organ and tissue recovery.
Mekesa said there was a time when people with hepatitis or HIV couldn’t donate, but that has changed. In the case of HIV, the Hope Act was passed in 2013 and allows patients that are HIV positive and waiting to receive a transplant to receive one from someone who had HIV.
“With hepatitis, especially with hepatitis C, medical advancements have changed so significantly over the last three years that many people are eligible for the treatment of hepatitis C so they can receive the medication process that will essentially cure hepatitis C from individuals,” Mekesa said.
She also said recipients are made aware if an organ is being donated from someone that had one of those viruses.
“We tell everybody, no one is ever a rule out for organ donation,” Mekesa said. “Even cancer used to be a rule out, but certain types of cancer or past history of cancer, depending on what treatment it was and the follow-through, doesn’t necessarily rule you out for organ donation.”
She also said they haven’t experienced a shortage, but rather an increase of donations during the pandemic, despite over 6,000 deaths in Ohio and 258,000 nationally from the coronavirus.
According to Mekesa, the increase is due to an uptick in suicides, violent deaths and other things of that nature that they hadn’t seen in the past.
“But we did see a little bit of a decrease in tissue donation because in the beginning, there really wasn’t enough information so we had to rule out so many of those patients,” she said. “But now that we have a better understanding of it and the industry does, we’re able screen better, do testing on all of our donors to ensure that they don’t have the active virus because they could be in the hospital for something else, and then move forward with donation.”
Individuals can sign up to be an organ donor online at the local BMV. To learn more about LifeBanc and donation, or to get LifeBanc’s contact information, visit its website.
Mekesa said kidneys are the most needed organ and about 80% of people waiting for a transplant are waiting on a kidney, and individuals can wait years to get one. That’s why it’s so important for people living and deceased to donate, if possible, so those waiting don’t have to depend on dialysis.
“I know it’s been a really tough year for all of us, I mean everybody, no matter who are it’s just definitely been a challenging year,” she said. “Talk to your loved ones and learn more about organ tissue and eye donation and register because it’s a lot easier for a family if they know their loved one has already made that decision versus having to make the decision for their loved one.”