Canceled flights and weather causes issues for organ donors

Winter storms and the FAA grounding all flights could be the difference in a life or death situation.
Published: Jan. 14, 2023 at 12:17 AM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The process transporting an organ from the donor patient to the recipient is a challenge in general, with flight delays and winter storms, it doesn’t make it any easier.

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), grounded all flights in the United States. This is just another example of what the transplant professionals are up against while providing life-saving care. It’s a race against the clock for the donation professionals despite winter storms or an FAA technology glitch, the organs must get to the patient in time.

Jill Grandas, Executive Director of Tennessee Donor Services, worked as a nurse before taking this job. She said as a nurse, she saw first hand people donating an organ to a complete stranger. She has been with Tennessee Donor Services for 36 years now, continuing her mission to help save lives.

“It’s a miracle every time it happens and people jump on board to make sure that it happens. To see that patient get a transplant, to see the gift of donation, to see it through for the donor patient and for the donor family,” Grandas said.

The biggest obstacle in the organ transplant process is time. For example, a heart can only survive for 4 to 5 hours outside the body, the liver 12 hours, and kidneys up to 24 hours. Grandas liked to tell the first responders the sooner the better to getting the organs to the patient.

“The timing is really critical for making sure we have transportation set up and that the teams are in place and then in the transplant hospital that they’re preparing their patient,” Grandas said.

This week when the FAA grounded all the flights, it was the first time since Sept. 11, causing some issues for the patients getting an organ. Grandas told WVLT News how a University of Tennessee medical Volunteer made it possible for a patient to live to see another day.

“A few weeks ago when we were having trouble getting an ambulance because there were so many emergencies in the area, a volunteer from UT Medical center stepped up and said I’ll help get that team to the airport,” Grandas said.

It can take a total of 800 people on the team for the transplant process to be completed. From start to finish it is a group effort from behind the scenes to inside the operating room. Both sides of organ donation, either receiving or donating, is challenging for everyone involved.

”It’s very emotional position because every time that you go to work and you enter the hospital its because someone has experienced a death. The staff in the ICU has experienced a death of their patient the family has experienced a death of a loved one,” Grandas said.

There are currently 3,000 Tennesseans waiting for an organ on the transplant list. Nationwide there at least 100,000 people awaiting an organ. Everyday hundreds of people in Tennessee are on stand-by waiting for a call to go help with an organ transplant that will hopefully save a life.

You can register to be an organ donor.