New Heart, Dorothy? You May Want to Try Kansas

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Is it harder to get a liver or heart transplant in Maryland than it is in Kansas? Maybe not, but you’d probably get that impression from a new Health and Human Services report. The study charts the rates of death while waiting for a transplant, the chances of getting a new organ and the percentage of successful procedures associated with heart and liver transplants in 100 medical centers across the country. The numbers, picked up ahead of time by the Associated Press, are being released Thursday but are causing an early stir in the medical establishment. According to the report, there are some hospitals — such as the one at the University of Maryland — where, in the mid-1990s, only around 20 percent of patients waiting for liver transplants received new organs, while at others the transplantation rate was closer to 90 percent (the University of Kansas).

Does this mean that patients in Maryland should gather up their IVs and run screaming to the prairies? Not at all, says Bob Speildenner, spokesman for the United Network for Organ Sharing. "Patients should not panic. They should talk to the doctors at the hospital about their concerns, about the numbers in the study." This data, Speildenner emphasizes, is several years old, and the results are still very much open to interpretation. "When these numbers are analyzed, they’ll be much more valuable to everyone." At that point, discrepancies will be explained, or at least fleshed out. Already, experts are offering possible reasons for the variations in success rates, including the hospitals’ policies on organ distribution, the willingness of a community to donate and, of course, the health of the transplant patient. "These numbers may be helpful to patients and their families," says Speildenner. "But they should be only one of many factors examined when they decide where to go for an organ transplant."