The Southwest Transplant Alliance set a state record in 2015 by recovering more than 1,100 organs for its partners throughout Texas.
The Dallas-based nonprofit helped transplant a total of 1,123 organs, the first time the organ procurement organization has ever topped four figures. It makes the OPO for Region 4—which includes 11 transplant centers and 227 acute care hospitals in the Dallas area and all corners of the state—the third busiest in the country, behind ones based in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. In October, the nonprofit set a Texas record for busiest month (136).
STA and its ilk are the middle men in organ transplants; they get permission from families to donate organs. They find recipients, they connect with hospitals, they organize transportation for the surgeons, and they help assist in the organ procurement. When they can’t find a home for an organ in their own region, they start looking beyond it.
“I can talk numbers, but it’s about lives,” says Patti Niles, the president and CEO of STA. “It’s all about the lives for us.”
In 2014, the OPO helped coordinate 998 organs. Niles came on in early 2013, inheriting a nonprofit that she says had operated in the red for about six years. She renegotiated contracts with the hospitals and set about building revenue to hire more staff.
Since taking over, STA has jumped from 80 employees to about 130, she said. They have placed staffers in strategic locations like Galveston and El Paso and Tyler. It has tripled its clinical staff and hired an in-house surgeon to recover kidneys, livers, and pancreases when the hospitals can’t send their own. STA has also boosted the number of nurses who are making calls to hospitals and requestors who get permission from the families of patients who are not organ donors but are eligible to donate.
“Our goal is 1,200. We’re the third largest program in the country,” Niles said. “We do 1,200 and we’ll be running up against the first and second largest programs, which are L.A. and Philadelphia. Can you tell I’m competitive?”
The OPO has seen a 45 percent increase in donors since 2012 and a 55 percent increase in the number of organs transplanted. Part of that is awareness: Initiatives like registering to be a donor when renewing a driver’s license has helped the state build a registry of nearly 8 million people, Niles said. But less than 1 percent of all people who die can be a donor—usually the deaths are traumatic, and sometimes the organs can be damaged in the incident that caused death. Others are not eligible because of age or health ailments. However morbid, organ donation depends on how you die and when you die.
“We tend to be fairly aggressive,” said Chad Trahan, the director of clinical services. “We don’t give up easily on placing organs, so if we feel like an organ has a 1 in 1,000 chance in being transplanted, we will go through the placement process and work with centers to see if there’s anything we can do to get the organ transplanted.”
There are more than 13,000 Texans awaiting an organ, and north of 121,000 nationally. Twenty-two people die each day on the list because of a lack of donors. To become an organ donor, head here.