China / Society

Transport delays reduce the time windows for organ transplants

By Cang Wei In Nanjing (China Daily) Updated: 2015-10-06 08:29

A large proportion of China's donated lungs are wasted due to the country's poor human organ transport system, says one of the country's top lung transplant surgeons.

Chen Jingyu, deputy director of Wuxi People's Hospital, who heads the world's fifth-largest lung transplant center, said that only 60 of the 300 lungs donated in the first half of 2015 in China had been successfully transplanted.

"Many of them were unusable because it took too long to transport them," said Chen. The latest case happened on Sunday when an organ transport team was not allowed to board a China Southern Airlines flight at Guangzhou airport, because the team only arrived at Guangzhou airport 15 minutes before the plane took off as a result of traffic jams.

Although the team had informed the workers of China Southern Airlines one day in advance, the manager on duty refused to let the team get on the plane because boarding procedures are stopped 30 to 45 minutes before taking off under normal circumstances according to the country's civil aviation regulations.

The team had to change their tickets and take a flight with Shenzhen Airlines that took off 90 minutes later.

Liu Dong, a doctor on the organ transport team, said that it only took the Shenzhen Airlines staff about 15 minutes to go through the boarding procedures.

"They informed airport security, air traffic control and the plane's crew as soon as they learned that we were transporting human organs," said Liu. "The whole process was very efficient."

The team managed to transport the lungs to the hospital at noon and the doctors waiting in the transportation center performed the surgery immediately.

"It took more than nine hours to transport the lungs after they were harvested from the donor," Chen said. "That's eating into the longest time window for lung transplants. If there was no seat available on the Shenzhen Airlines plane, the donated lungs would have gone to waste."

The center has received assistance from China Southern Airlines in the past without any hitch. In 2014, it used the airline to transport a set of lungs from Guangzhou to Wuxi.

"Different from some developed countries, China solely relies on civil aviation to transport organs," Chen said. "The donated lungs must be implanted within 12 hours, but the surgery takes about five hours. The time left to transport the organs is limited."

He added that a patient needs to wait for two or three years on average to receive a lung transplant, and that many have passed away before they can get one.

Chen would like the health and civil aviation authorities to establish an emergency transport system for donated organs.

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