On the waiting list: This is what it is like to live in expectation of a new organ transplant

Every October 14, World Organ and Tissue Donation Day is commemorated. In Colombia, of the 3,098 people on the waiting list, 2,794 are waiting for a kidney, 68 for a liver and 49 for a heart.

At 52, Edgardo Jiménez Pertuz is one of them. He has been waiting for a new liver for nine months.

This teacher, a native of the Magdalena department, had to settle in Floridablanca since January 13 due to his health condition.

A decompensated liver cirrhosis, which is not related to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, brought him from Santa Marta to Santander and has him waiting for a donor.

“I worked in Aracataca and suddenly I started to feel sick, my legs were swollen and I didn’t sleep. The clinic that treats me in Santa Marta did not pay me the attention I should have and I had to pay private doctors to find the diagnosis. I had not drank for years and I appeared with this disease because I had a lot of stress, ”says Edgardo.

The routine of leaving Santa Marta every day at 3:00 am to Aracataca to teach classes and returning home at 3:00 pm had consequences on her health.

The hope to continue living

Due to his medical condition, Edgardo must undergo a liver transplant. While the donor arrives, he must live with strict controls, care and treatments.

According to his account, due to the negligence of the health entity that attended him in Santa Marta, he had to file a guardianship to access the transplant. After they ruled in his favor, he arrived at Floridablanca, in Santander. The Cardiovascular Foundation of Colombia, FCV, will be in charge of performing your surgery.

Due to various inconveniences with his EPS, which is also a special regime, since he is a teacher, Edgardo and his wife have had to use their own resources to be able to live in Floridablanca, hoping that the donor will arrive soon.

During the first half of 2021, 133 patients have died in the country waiting for the possibility of a transplant.

“When I arrived here, the health entity with which I am affiliated placed me in a place that was not optimal due to my health condition, if I was still there I would no longer be alive. That is why I had to take money out of my pocket to live independently, but it has not been easy. We can keep waiting because my family helps me with food and paying the rent, because I just couldn’t, “he said.

His wife has accompanied him throughout this journey. She says it is her unconditional support, “thanks to her I feel happy to continue living.”

Can read: Only 12.2% of the population between 12 and 19 years old is immunized against COVID in Santander.

Although it remains positive, with faith in God and with hope intact, there are times when the question is when will the donor arrive? During these nine months of waiting he has had moments of anguish.

“The fear I felt about being on the waiting list I have been losing thanks to the treatment I have received from the FCV staff. I feel calm, here I received an affection that I did not have in Santa Marta. The hepatologist who treats me is wonderful and that gives me more strength and desire to continue waiting, ”says Edgardo.

The FCV transplants the heart, kidney, pancreas, liver, lung, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, skin and amniotic membrane.

In the first six months of the year, the institution performed 12 solid organ transplants.

A pandemic that affected the donation

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a 38% decrease in transplants in Colombia. It went from 1,302 transplants in 2019 to 800 last year. In Santander the drop was 40%, going from 86 to 52 transplants.

Added to this, the high occupancy of the ICU by COVID-19 patients made it difficult to receive potential donors. Additionally, patients who die from complications with SARS-Cov-2 cannot donate their organs in Colombia.

This situation caused a decrease in the number of donors and therefore in the number of transplants.

However, given the evident truce that the coronavirus has given, organ donation figures are expected to increase.

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Due to this same situation, Edgardo and his wife remain far from home because at any moment the donor can appear.

“To the extent that the opportunity to have the organ presents itself, the FCV staff will notify me, and that is not overnight, that is why I must be on the waiting list and close by, as well as delays can arrive at any time. If they call me now, I grab my suitcase and go to the clinic, ”he reveals.

In the first six months of 2021, 393 transplants have been performed in Colombia and 23 of them have been in Santander.

With 12 procedures, the FCV is the hospital that has performed the most transplants in the department: 5 kidney, 4 heart and 3 liver.

“The topic that people usually touch on the end of life is whether or not they would like cremation, but little is said about how important it would be to help with organ and tissue donation to save the lives of up to 55 people”, says Laura Hernández Delgado, operational coordinator of transplants at the FCV.

This is an economic effort that I do together with my family members. We hope that the transplant will be quick. I always have faith in God, he commands things in due time

Edgardo Jimenez

How is the donation process?

Since Law 1805 of 2016 came into force, all Colombians are potential donors unless they state otherwise in life, through a notarized document or notification to their EPS.

When there is no record of opposition to donation, hospitals continue to discuss the issue with the family so that they are the ones who make the final decision, based on the wishes expressed by their loved one.

Organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidneys or intestine are transplanted in Colombia. Donors must have received the diagnosis of brain death, which is delivered when it is proven by tests that there is no blood flow to the brain and that it has no activity. There is also the possibility of donating some organs while still alive, such as a kidney, part of the lung, liver and bone marrow.

The kidney, liver and heart are the three most transplanted organs in the country.

The allocation of these and the other organs, cells and tissues is governed only by clinical and ethical criteria, and not by economic or other considerations.

“We take into account many factors such as height and weight. Blood type is another determining factor. It is not possible to take an organ from an A + donor to a B- recipient because their body would reject it, ”explains Hernández Delgado.

The National Institute of Health, INS, is the one who channels the decisions of each organ to be transplanted and action must be taken quickly.

“Organs cannot be saved. To transplant a heart we have four hours to remove it from the donor and place it in the recipient. Same for lung and pancreas. For the liver it is up to eight hours and for the kidney it is up to 24 ”, assured the operational coordinator of transplants of the FCV.

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