Five Western PA Healthcare Organizations Honored in May
at First National Learning Congress on Organ Donation
Organ Donor Provides Firsthand Account of Experiences and Need to
Increase Organ Donations
by John Fries
Imagine what it would be like to be young, vibrant, and energetic—and
confined to a hospital room for eight months, not knowing when you'd
That actually happened to Amy Luxner, now 32. After a 1998 medical examination
revealed that she had tumors around her heart -- a diagnosis her father
had also previously received -- she went to Allegheny General Hospital
to have them removed. While the tumor removal surgery was successful,
her heart wasn't strong enough to withstand the trauma associated with
it, so the doctors implanted a mechanical device to help her heart continue
When she awoke following surgery, her doctors told her about the newly
implanted device and how it would keep her heart beating for the foreseeable
future. It was only a temporary solution, though; she would need to
have a heart transplant once an appropriate donor match could be located.
There was one other issue--because the implanted ventricular assist
device was only FDA-approved for use within the hospital, she would
have to wait for a donor heart in the hospital.
Although no one know it at the time, this would mean living in a patient
room at Allegheny General as the weeks, months, and, eventually, seasons
ticked by. Then it happened: eight months after her tumor removal surgery,
her new heart arrived and Luxner received the gift of life she'd been
Luxner, a Carnegie, PA native and current resident of the Washington,
DC area, told her story at the First National Learning Congress on Organ
Donation at the Pittsburgh Convention Center. By her side as she spoke
was a woman who has become a close friend -- Sandy Granberg, mother
of Nicholas Miller, a 13-year-old who died following a 1998 auto accident,
and whose heart now beats in Luxner's chest.
The First National Learning Congress, presented by the US Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Health Resources and Services
Administration (HRSA) Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative, provided
an opportunity for attendees to collaborate on initiatives aimed at
increasing national organ donation rates.
The Collaborative is a coalition comprised of hospitals, organ procurement
organizations, health and government agencies, and the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services/Health Resources Service Organization.
Their mission is simple and their message is clear: there's a crucial
need for donor organs. Right now, more than 88,000 people across the
U.S. are on organ waiting lists. Of them, 2,200 are in western Pennsylvania.
Several Local Hospitals Awarded Medals of Honor
A key part of the Learning Congress was the presentation of the first-ever
Medals of Honor to five local hospitals and one healthcare organization
for successfully collaborating with organ procurement organizations
to increase organ donation rates. Each was honored for achieving the
ODBC's organ donation goal of 75 percent or higher during a 12-month
period. They are:
Mercy Hospital, with an 84.6 percent donation rate,
UPMC Presbyterian, with a 79 percent donation rate,
UPMC Shadyside, also with a 79 percent donation rate,
Hamot Medical Center, with a 75 percent donation rate,
Altoona Regional Health System, with a 75 percent donation rate,
The Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE), which collaborated
with the hospitals and health systems to improve their rates.
Representatives from these organizations -- CEOs, COOs, patient care
administrators, physicians and nurses were among the 2,200 medical professionals,
organ donors, organ recipients, and others at the Learning Congress.
Dr. Elizabeth Duke, administrator with the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services' Health Resources Services Administration, presented
the Medals of Honor at a formal dinner on May 19.
Underscoring the Need for Organ Donations
Several healthcare executives spoke at a special morning gathering just
as the conference was getting underway. All underscored the need for
increasing organ donations, echoing a statement by Susan Stuart, CORE's
president and CEO.
"Convening the Learning Congress in Pittsburgh is a tribute to the pioneering
efforts of the city's four transplant centers, which helped to develop
our region into a major U.S. transplant center. The relationships among
the 155 hospitals in our region, four regional transplant centers in
Pittsburgh and two in West Virginia are, without a doubt, a great example
of how effective collaboration can truly save lives."
Elizabeth Concordia, president and CEO at both UPMC Presbyterian and
UPMC Shadyside, also recalled the city's heritage and, specifically,
Dr. Thomas Starzl's work as a transplant pioneer 20 years ago, "making
Pittsburgh the transplant capital of the world."
Ken Eshak, president and CEO of Mercy Health System, spoke of the compassion
he's observed in the Pittsburgh area since arriving here last fall.
Oxendale, president of UPMC Children's Hospital, provided numbers that
put the need into perspective. "We have 327 children on our transplant
list," he said, "but we do about 40 to 50 transplants a year."
Dr. Jeffrey Levine, of Hamot Medical Center, and Kim Spearing, vice
president of operations at Allegheny General's transplant center, both
spoke of the need to increase organ donations.
Luxner, too, spoke at the gathering about her experience as an organ
recipient. She mentioned afterward that, ironically, she has had an
organ donor card since she turned 16 -- although at the time, she had
no idea about the experience that would lie ahead for her.
CORE’s Call to Action
According to CORE, the need for organ donation is greater than ever
before. The organization urges families to discuss organ donation, and
enthusiastically supports the use of including organ donations in living
wills and driver's license registrations.
CORE, founded in 1977, is the federally designated and accredited non-profit
organ procurement organization (OPO) serving as the link between those
who donate and those awaiting transplant. CORE is the primary call center
and intermediary of the local organ recovery and allocation process,
providing professional and community education to 155 hospitals and
nearly six million people across western and central Pennsylvania, West
Virginia and upstate New York.
Since its inception, the organization has assisted with the coordination
of more than 300,000 organs, tissue, and corneas for use in transplants.