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Organ donations from deceased donors up 17 per cent over past decade

There’s a spot of needed good news in the arena of organ transplant as donations from deceased donors rose by 17 per cent in the 10 years leading up to 2012, according to a new national report.

The number of deceased donors surpassed the total number of living donors — by one — in 2012, the report said.

As well, the report from the Canadian Institutes of Health Information said the number of transplant procedures in the country rose by five per cent in 2012 from the previous year.

Still, the total number of deceased donors in the country in 2012 was 540 people — a small number given the large need for donated organs.

While there were 2,225 transplant procedures performed in 2012, virtually double that number of people remained on the waiting list needing donor hearts, lungs, livers or kidneys. And 230 people died before a donor organ became available.

Amber Appleby, provincial operations director for BC Transplant, the agency that co-ordinates that province’s transplant efforts, said the reality is that few people die in a way that would allow them to become organ donors.

In order to be an organ donor, a person has to die in hospital, in an intensive care unit or emergency department “somewhere where you’re ventilated, where you’re on life support, where your organs have not been … without oxygen,” Appleby explained in an interview from Vancouver.

“And it needs to be an environment where any sort of cessation of life-sustaining therapy can be done with clinicians that are there, that are ready and prepared for facilitating that.”

Ronnie Gavsie of Trillium Gift of Life Network, the agency that oversees Ontario’s transplant program, says only between two per cent and three per cent of people die in a way that would allow for organs to be retrieved for transplantation.

“The message is clear: The need for organs far outweighs the supply,” said Gavsie, the agency’s president and CEO.

However, she insisted the 540 deceased donors made a big difference to a lot of lives.

In 2012 there were 539 living donors, each of whom could give one organ — a kidney or a piece of a liver. But organs from dead donors can save eight lives, Gavsie said, and other body parts — skin, corneas, bone, arteries — can enhance the lives of 75 additional people.

“So that 540 translates into a lot of lives that have been given a second chance,” she said.

Of the total transplant procedures in 2012, 1,686 of the organs were from dead donors.

The report says the overall number of transplants performed in Canada has increased each year since 2010, mainly due to rises in the number of deceased donors.

Kidneys made up the bulk of the transplant operations, with 1,358 performed. That exceeds the combined total of 929 liver, lung, heart and pancreatic transplants.

Of living donors, 36 per cent were not related to the transplant recipient. That figure includes spouses, who are not blood relatives of the people to whom they donated.