UAB: New federal rules on liver transplants could cost Alabama lives

UAB: New federal rules on liver transplant could cost Alabama lives

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WAFF) - Two University of Alabama at Birmingham experts say Alabama could soon be losing livers to nearby cities.

This week, new federal regulations on liver transplant took effect.

The regulations would create a system where livers would be sent anywhere in a 500 nautical mile radius from the donation site, to patients in the most critical need.

The rationale being the expanded reach of liver donation would save statistically more lives nationwide.

Thursday, a federal judge in Atlanta issued an injunction on the policy for further review, and its future is unclear.

Previously, livers went to individuals closer to the area of donation.

If the new regulations are ultimately implemented, Huntsville livers could go everywhere from Chicago to Jacksonville, Fayetteville, Arkanasas to the North Carolina coast.

Two liver transplant experts from UAB said the regulations (if reinstated) will translate to rural livers ending up in urban areas.

UAB Associate Surgical Director of Liver Transplantation Dr. Robert Cannon said cities, with their longer wait lists, will pull livers away from Alabamians.

“They’re going to have to wait longer for them to be transplanted, they’re going to have to be sicker before they get transplanted, and many of these patients just won’t make it,” he said.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more Alabamians die as a result of this policy.”

He said urban patients have resources their rural counterparts do not, and the policy would compound that disrecpancy.

“Take the example of a New York City patient...they’re a sick patient for sure, but they’ve got a lot of transplant centers around them and easy access to specialized care that can keep them alive on the wait list," he said.

“Whereas someone from Appalachia... they’re not going to make it.”

A spokesman for Huntsville Hospital told WAFF 48 News the hospital does not perform transplants, with a majority of the patients in need traveling to either Nashville or Birmingham.

UAB division director of transplant surgery, Dr. Devin Eckhoff, said the policy would take an emotional toll on patients and families.

“It’s disheartening for them. I’ve had some patients start crying in the clinic because they already think it’s stacked against them,” he said.

“Now you’re telling them it’s going to be even harder. You tell them quite frankly they’ve got to get sicker before they get transplanted.”

Gurley resident Courtney Cameron said she decided to donate her sons organs after his death in 2014, helping save five lives.

She said she doesn’t mind the policy.

“I personally, it did not matter to me whether the recipients were near or far...every life is important, young or old," she said.

All three said the issue of liver allocation could be avoided with more donors.

Anybody interested in registering to donate can sign up at LegacyOfHope.Org.

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