Proposed bill would make sure Kansas organ donations can stay inside Sunflower State

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A bill that would allow Kansas residents to designate organ donations to Kansas recipients is working its way through the Kansas Senate.

About 75% of Kansas residents are on the organ donor registry, according to the Midwest Transplant Network.

The bill is a response new federal regulations that will change how organ donations are distributed. The changes start April 30.

Under the new rules, organ donations will be allocated using a statistical formula of how sick someone is and can go up to 500 nautical miles away from the donor hospital. It will replace the old system that used fixed geographic boundaries for allocation.

"They way it works right now, if we have an organ donor within our service area -- all of Kansas and the western two-thirds of Missouri -- we run a list though the United Network for Organ Sharing. So we know the priority of the patient, so we're able to allocate the organs locally first, then regionally, then finally, nationally," said Jan Finn, CEO of the Midwest Transplant Network. "So we know that patients in the area are served by donors from this area in a better fashion. With the policy change, the organs would go out more broadly. They would go to the sickest patients within a larger area."

The MWTN isn't taking a stance on Kansas Senate Bill 194.

"It would be really challenging for us because we need to follow the UNOS policies that we are bound by as an organ procurement organization," Finn said.

UNOS is a federally contracted agency and doesn't allow people to specify donations by state.

The University of Kansas Health System, however, supports the bill and testified in favor of it before the Kansas Senate.

"When you talk about folks that are on the liver transplant waiting list, for instance, the mortality waiting for an organ is about 15-20% here locally," said Sean Kumer, a transplant surgeon at KU Health System. "Other places across they country, they're in the single digits, 5-10%."

Kumer said he supports the bill because it's a patient access issue.

"This brings the conversation to the forefront that donors are not a national resource like some of our colleagues say across the country," Kumer said. "But they are a gift, and this brings the conversation to the forefront that we are trying to give Kansans the preference to give organs here locally in Kansas."

The bill is still alive in the Kansas Senate but doesn't have a date for a vote yet.

Whatever happens as the legislative session moves forward, all parties agree the good thing about the bill is that it raises awareness about the need for organ donors.

Last October, federal regulations changed for heart donations to allow for wider allocation. The Midwest Transplant Network said since then, 33 hearts were donated in its coverage area. Eight of them stayed local. In the past, more than 50 percent would stay local.

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