Every ten minutes in the United States, someone is added to the national transplant waiting list, and every day, 20 people die waiting for a suitable organ. But a change late last year by the national association that oversees organ allocation is having a profound impact on some patients.
Jenna Simonetti of Rochester, New York lived most of her 29 years with a life-threatening condition. Doctors diagnosed her with cystic fibrosis at age six.
"I played soccer. Ran around like a normal kid," Jenna said.
But as Jenna got older, infections caused by the CF started to destroy her lungs. By her mid-twenties, she needed oxygen 24-hours a day. One night her oxygen slid off during sleep, and she woke up disoriented.
"They told me I had two options. I could stay here and die here or go and get on the transplant list," Jenna shared.
Jenna's dad, Anthony Simonetti, said, "They flew her out here and that was terrifying. Because she was in the helicopter and my wife and I was driving on the thruway to get here. We weren't sure what we were going to find when we got here."
Doctors scanned Jenna's lungs, and she went on the transplant list in Pittsburgh. Just two weeks later, on Thanksgiving 2017, a change by the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS provided surgeons with a life-saving opportunity.
"Basically, overnight there was a change to say the sickest patients within a designated area, 250 miles of a donor hospital should be in the same pool to receive organs," said Jonathan D'Cunha, MD, PhD, FACS, Chief of Lung Transplantation at UPMC. (Read Full Interview)
Later that night, Jenna and her family learned lungs were available at a hospital within that 250-mile radius.
Ten months after her double lung transplant, Jenna is breathing freely and showing no signs of rejection.
Before the organ allocation change last Thanksgiving, the United States was divided into 58 local donor service areas. People on the transplant list were first matched with donors within their service areas, even if another potential match was closer geographically. For now, the new rules just apply to heart and lung transplantation.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field and Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.
Health Watch: New lungs for Jenna
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