Thanks to the generous gifts of life from organ, eye, and tissue donors and their families, 2020 was a record-setting year for saving and healing lives in North Carolina. The state’s organ, eye and tissue recovery organizations, Carolina Donor Services and LifeShare Carolinas have announced that despite COVID-19, more North Carolinians are alive today because of their hard work and dedication through a very challenging year. A record 448 deceased organ donors saved 1,193 lives. This was a 18% increase in organ donors and a 13% increase in lives saved from 2019. There was a 12% increase in total tissues recovered while the number of tissue donors, 1,582, was nearly the same as the previous year. The state’s eye recovery organizations were greatly impacted by COVID-19 as corneal transplants were considered an elective surgery and were therefore suspended at many facilities. Despite the suspension, LifeShare transplanted more eye tissue in 2020 than last year.
While deceased organ transplant surgeries were deemed essential, COVID-19 impacted the North Carolina recovery organizations in other ways. Hospitals enforced stricter requirements, families were separated from their dying loved ones, all potential donors who tested COVID-19 positive were medically ruled out, and elective surgeries for tissue, corneal, and living organ transplants were postponed. Another major impact came when a large number of North Carolina DMV offices were temporarily closed. The DMV is where 99.5% of registered organ, eye, and tissue donors make that decision. This resulted in 516,478 fewer people signing up as donors than in 2019.
“We worked hard to save and heal lives. We adjusted our approach to grieving families and our internal processes to address hospital requirements and COVID-19 testing,” said Danielle Niedfeldt, RN, JD, President & CEO of Carolina Donor Services. “Throughout all of it, families were strongly committed to their loved one’s decisions to be donors. And, when a decision was not known, many families said “yes” to donation because they wanted to help others at such a difficult time.”
“This year presented a number of challenges, but we worked together and maintained a strong focus on saving lives,” said Michael Daniels, Executive Director/CEO of LifeShare Carolinas. “This couldn’t have happened without teamwork from our staff, boards, donor hospitals, transplant centers, the DMV, and Donate Life North Carolina. Of course, none of this would be possible without our donors and their families.”
“We are grateful to all of our dedicated partners who help make donation and transplantation possible, but we know there is still more work to be done,” Daniels continued. “The number of North Carolinians who have registered as donors is 55%, below the national average of 59%. This is something we are always working to improve, but has been extremely difficult during COVID, when we can’t be out in our communities educating the public.”
“Organ donation is rare,” said Niedfeldt. “While most of the population can be tissue donors at their time of death, less than 1% of total deaths result in organ donation. This why our teams work so incredibly hard to save lives.”
Nationally, over 109,000 men, women, and children, including more 3,000 North Carolinians, are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. To register your decision to become an organ, eye and tissue donor, visit DonateLifeNC.org.