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New liver transplant rules make Birmingham patients wait longer than other cities

Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 10:45 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - New rules that went into effect during the pandemic mean people in Birmingham may be less likely to get a liver when they need one

The problem that national organ groups were trying to solve was how to allocate livers in a better way, but doctors here say it could hurt less populated areas.

One of the new rules is that an available liver can be transported in a certain radius, which can mean away from Birmingham.

Dr. Robert Cannon, UAB’s surgical transplant coordinator, says it puts lives at risk.

“So for us, a donor from Birmingham could potentially be shared as far west as Houston,” said Dr. Cannon.

The goal of the changes were to make more livers available for more people, but that can have its drawbacks for Alabama patients.

“They’ve got to be sicker to get on the waitlist, in order to get a transplant now,” said Dr. Cannon.

Previously, patients at UAB could get a transplant with what’s called a MELD score in the 20s.... now they have to be in the 30s.

“A MELD score of 20, your risk of dying in 90 days is 10-20 percent, at 30 or higher, it can be 50 percent or greater,” he explained.

Dr. Cannon says the rules may have been well-intentioned, but practically they are harmful.

“You know you see patients wind up in sort of the position of wishing they were sicker so they could get transplanted,” said Dr. Cannon.

He also pointed out there are more organ donors in rural areas than more populated areas.

The way to help patients he says is to volunteer to become an organ donor. You can do that by visiting DonateLife.org.

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