New hope for patients on transplant waiting lists
HUNDREDS of patients on transplant waiting lists have been offered fresh hope through organs donated by patients whose hearts have stopped, but who may not be technically brain dead.
For decades, Ireland has relied on donations from patients who are "brain-stem dead" but new medical developments have the potential to dramatically increase the supply of donations.
In six cases last year, donors had their organs removed for transplant within a few minutes of a patient's heart stopping, even though their brain may be still have been able to send messages to the body to control unconscious functions.
The organs are removed within a few minutes of the heart stopping to prevent them being damaged by a lack of oxygenated blood, but only when doctors are clear the patient has no chance of recovery.
This practice, known as 'cardiac death donation', is expected to increase significantly in the coming years.
Mark Murphy of the Irish Kidney Association said it was providing a "new source of deceased donors which should significantly add to our deceased donor rates in the future".
In total, there were 86 cases of organ donation last year.
"The six cardiac death donors were the result of pioneering work by the intensivists (specialist in the care of critically-ill patients) at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
In 2012, cardiac death donation accounted for 43pc of the UK's deceased donors and 33pc of the Netherlands deceased donors. This shows the potential for Ireland," he said.
Mr Murphy was speaking at the launch of Organ Donor Awareness Week.
While a record 245 people who needed an organ transplant were given the gift of life last year, another 550 are on the waiting list, many of them in a race against time.
Prof Jim Egan, head of the national office for organ donation and transplantation in the Mater Hospital, said doctors were aiming to carry out transplants on 300 patients this year.
Health Minister James Reilly, who launched the week, also said proposed legislation allowing for presumed consent – where everyone is presumed to be a donor unless they or their relatives object – should be published in the summer.
Earlier, he was told that the "widespread loss of discretionary medical cards for all patients who are chronically ill and reliant on hi-tech medications, is having a devastating personal economic effect on all the 3,000 transplanted people in Ireland".
It is also affecting the 1,800 dialysis patients who rely on hi-tech medications.