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Organ transplants moving forward on ‘case by case’ basis during pandemic: BC Transplant

VANCOUVER — The COVID-19 pandemic is creating some uncertainty for people in B.C. awaiting organ transplants, who face a higher risk of serious complications from the virus.

BC Transplant told CTV News Vancouver “urgent and life-saving” donations and transplants are moving forward on a case by case basis right now, if deemed safe and appropriate by care providers. The organization said the decision to take the case by case approach is “not one health care professionals take lightly, because we know how important these surgeries are for people who are waiting for a transplant.”

The pandemic has also meant the process of screening two potential living kidney donors for a Vernon man is on hold, for now.

Harry Bryant was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease just over 10 years ago, and said he has watched his kidney function decrease from 50 per cent to 10. The 65-year-old is practising distancing to stay safe, as the disease puts him at a higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

“Of course, I do feel isolated. You want to get out, you want to greet people and meet people, but you just have to be focussed on your health,” Bryant said.

Last December, Bryant launched an online campaign to find a living donor through a Facebook group called Grandpa Needs a Kidney. Since then, he said he’s had two people advance through the vetting process for donation, including one person who he didn’t know previously – but then the pandemic came.

“Everything is stopped, in its tracks. And I understand that,” Bryant said. “There’s people that are suffering a lot worse than I am, and people are going through the actual virus that are in more dire straits than myself.”

Karen Stacey, who founded The Happy Liver Society, which helps provide liver transplant patients with low-cost housing in Vancouver during their recovery, said she’s hearing from people waiting for a transplant who are worried.

“They’re very, very anxious. Everybody is uncertain about what their future’s going to be, to begin with,” Stacey said. “It’s adding a lot of uncertainty.”

Stacey said both of the units she has available to house patients are currently empty, which she calls “unprecedented.”

Her non-profit is also facing some uncertainty due to the pandemic. They’ve had to postpone a gala fundraiser planned for this month until September.

“It’s our big fundraising event of the year. So yeah, it’s a major hit for us,” Stacey said.

As a liver transplant patient herself, Stacey knows the importance of having a place to stay following surgery, to receive follow-up care.

“I want to keep the doors open. It’s vital,” Stacey said. “I’m just really worried that if this goes on for any length of time that we’re not going to be able to sustain ourself.”

BC Transplant said a decision about whether to proceed with a donation and transplant right now “must balance the risk the virus poses to potential recipients with the risk of delaying transplantation.” They add it also depends upon the prevalence of COVID-19 in an area, and whether a hospital has the capacity to support a transplant recipient, who would recover in the intensive care unit. Potential donors are also being screened for the virus.

While he waits, Bryant said he’s going for daily walks while maintaining distancing, so he can keep fit and to stay ready for a future transplant.

“My understanding is once the process is done, and they actually match you up, there’s still about a three month wait for surgery,” Bryant said. “So, it is what it is, you ride it out, you do your best, you try and stay healthy.”

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