NEW YORK — For decades, surgeons have traveled to far-off hospitals to remove organs from brain-dead donors and then rushed back to transplant them. Now an experiment in the Midwest suggests there may be a better way: Bring the donors to the doctors instead.
A study to be released Tuesday reports on liver transplants from the nation’s first free-standing organ retrieval center. Nearly all organ donors now are transported to Mid-America Transplant Services in St. Louis from a region including parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas.
Removing organs at this central location near the four hospitals that do transplants saves money, the study found. The livers spent less time outside the body, which at least in theory improves the odds of success. Doctors also think they are getting more usable organs from each donor, though this study only looked at livers.
Transplant experts say this could become a new standard, and groups in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Denver, Chicago, and Ann Arbor, Mich., have started or are exploring similar ventures.
About 28,000 transplants were done in the United States in 2012; more than 121,000 people are on the waiting list now.
Organs have a finite shelf life — livers, 6 to 10 hours after removal; hearts and lungs, even less. Kidneys last about a day.
Transplants are not done at every hospital — only a few in any major city have that capability.
Surgeons usually travel to wherever the donor is to retrieve organs, performing these hurried, complex operations in unfamiliar settings, often assisted by staffs at hospitals that don’t have transplant expertise.