One hour can make a big difference when it comes to helping organ transplant recipients. Saving five hours makes an even bigger difference.
For people who have opted to become organ donors, the moment when this wish becomes a reality often comes after an unexpected trauma or illness. In those moments, every step must move quickly to make a transplant successful.
The Serology Laboratory at Strong Memorial Hospital performs a wide range of tests. Some of their most specialized testing is performed in conjunction with Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network (FLDRN) to screen potential organ donors for a variety of infectious diseases, as required by national policy. Until recently, some testing had to be sent 5-6 hours away to an offsite lab in Philadelphia, PA.
This changed in February 2017, when Serology’s donor testing lab at Strong expanded their services and began performing Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Now, all of the required donor screening tests can be performed under one roof. The testing is performed after a potential donor has been identified, medically evaluated and consent/authorization for donation has been obtained.
For recipients who are waiting for an organ to become available, every minute counts. Having access to new testing capabilities helps the coordinators at the FLDRN who work around the clock to coordinate transplants.
“It also assists our transplant program by being able to turn these tests around more quickly so the donation process and organ recovery can take place sooner,” said Dan Wheeler, supervisor of Serology, Immunology and Molecular Virology at URMC. “The longer the process drags on, the more opportunities there are for complications.”
For example, a donor’s heart and lungs must be transplanted into a recipient within four hours of the time they are recovered from a donor; a donor’s liver must be transplanted within 12 hours and their kidneys must be transplanted within 24 hours. The donor testing lab, led by supervisor Lindsay Ryan, is staffed by five transplant technologists who are on-call 24/7/365 when new cases come in. The sooner the serology results are reported, the sooner the actual organ transplants can begin.
Rob Kochik, executive director of the FLDRN says that until now, New York State has never had a laboratory that performs NAT testing on a 24-hour stat basis. Kochik and Marilyn Menegus Ph.D., Associate Director of Microbiology at URMC, have been working collaboratively to establish the lab at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Kochik says it’s exciting to have access to a local lab for all pre-transplant testing since this expansion saves hours of travel time that used to delay the transplant process.
“This saves us five or six hours of waiting, in particular, when we’re trying to move as quickly as possible to coordinate a donation,” said Kochik. “Literally, this will help us save more lives. We could not be more excited and appreciative of the hard work that the lab is doing to put this in place.”
In addition to partnering with FLDRN, Strong plans to perform testing for other organ procurement organizations in Buffalo and Albany.
Pictured above: The team of medical technologists at the new sereological donor testing lab includes (from left) Ryan Sorensen, Lauren Brooks, Lindsay Ryan, Nicole Desisto, Alycia Haueise, and Baltazar Yeban Calunod Jr.