NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – Organs keep our bodies functioning, yet for some people, certain organs fail and they’re in need of a transplant. This became a real concern during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started to get a little nervous in March and April for our transplant population because of COVID-19,” says Vanderbilt Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Seth Karp.
Karp says of that time, “the number of donors across the country was going down because people were worried about donations, they were worried they might use an organ that had COVID-19 and we really didn’t understand what would happen in that case.”
In those two months transplants still happened even though elective surgeries were cancelled. It was then up to the doctors to decide whether the surgery was necessary enough to go through with the transplant at that time.
“We looked at this from a scientific, research standpoint and we determined that it’s actually much better for our patients to take a small risk of getting COVID-19 than to wait for the transplant. In other words, patients are really better off taking a little bit of risk and getting the transplant than they are taking the risk not getting the transplant.”
Dr. Karp says there were many patients on their waiting lists that didn’t get transplants in March or April, “And that’s very dangerous because many patients on our transplant list, they have life threatening problems and they need the organs or they’re going to die.” He goes on to say, “so as quickly as we can we shifted back kind of into our life saving mode to do the transplants that the patients needed and so we had a bit of a backlog of patients that were waiting and so we were able to get those patients safely through the system.”
In a typical month, Karp says they’ll do between 45-50 transplants. But in May they performed 73 which is the most he says they’ve done in a month in hospital history. “We had some built up need and when May first came around and we started to open back up, we had a huge number of people around the transplant center that address that need and were really dedicated to getting these transplants done.”
He also says they have not seen an increase in the number of our patients who died waiting for an organ nor did they have any reports of patients getting COVID-19 from getting treatment at the hospital.
Dr. Karp says, “These organs are lifesaving, lifesaving before COVID-19 and lifesaving after COVID-19. The environment here is very safe and we believe people need to start coming back to the hospital for their procedures. Not just transplants but all the procedures that they need. We don’t want to miss patients who have colon cancer because they don’t have their colonoscopy. We don’t want to miss patients that have breast cancer because they’ve missed their screening.”