OPO’s Commitment to Research Yields Impactful Returns

The Research Triangle in North Carolina is home to three major research universities and many technology companies. Carolina Donor Services (CDS), an OPO located in Durham, Greenville and Winston-Salem, is ideally positioned to provide non-transplantable organs to this prime research hub.

Early in 2019, IIAM partnered with leadership at CDS to maximize the placement of more organs for medical research. As part of that effort, IIAM’s East Coast Regional Director, Amberly Jones, was invited to share information on research studies and their impact in advancing science.

With an existing commitment to increase research donation opportunities, CDS added a position dedicated to this purpose in 2012. Christena Tozel, the current Research Coordinator said, “our department now makes almost all the research allocation calls, which allows us to exhaust all options. To help our transplant surgeons recover organs for research, our staff participates in training opportunities including IIAM’s Research Recovery Workshops.”

In 2019, the OPO increased its donors referred to IIAM by 121 percent and offers of non-transplantable organs to IIAM by 377 percent over 2018 — leading to a jump of 275 percent in organ placements for medical research through IIAM. This dramatic growth was the result of a 37-percent increase in donors to CDS in 2019, as well as IIAM’s renewed acceptance of backup offers.

Our partnerships with all OPOs enabled IIAM to place 181 organs or tissues with researchers based in North Carolina in 2018 and 211 in 2019. Of all IIAM placements, 15 percent have gone to North Carolina researchers, while 33 percent of all lungs have been placed in the state.
Every month, Tozel and Jones discuss what’s working well, what needs attention and potential changes for the future. “Open communication has further refined and helped develop processes on both sides to increase organ placement rates with IIAM researchers,” said Tozel. “She has years of experience and understands the OPO’s point of view and how to tackle issues that need to be addressed. Working with Amberly is rewarding; I value her input and friendship.”

“It’s important to both IIAM and CDS to facilitate donation and research discovery in North Carolina,” said Jones. “I’ve had the pleasure to work with CDS for many years, and I appreciate their commitment to donation of all types and to their support of donor families. Christena brought fresh energy when she took on the role of Research Coordinator. She and the entire CDS staff do an amazing job!”

In 2019 CDS was able to assist two families in achieving their desire to donate their babies’ organs through IIAM’s Neonatal Donation program. As Research Coordinator, Tozel takes the lead on these cases since most neonatal organs are dedicated for research studies exclusively. Each donation involved the recovery and placement of six organs — which is a wonderful legacy for these babies and their families.

“Having those cases go so well and enabling us to place so many organs through IIAM’s researchers truly helps to bring hope and closure for our donor families,” said Tozel. “It also shows them that their baby’s brief life does indeed have an even fuller meaning. IIAM follows up by sending StarNamer packets to CDS for the donor families — a gesture that goes a long way with our donor families. We’re grateful for the thoughtfulness that IIAM shows for its neonatal donors. I’ve had the pleasure of not only working with IIAM Placement Coordinator Andrea Haines on both cases, but also meeting her at research conventions. Andrea has been instrumental in helping us smoothly meet the researchers’ needs.”

“Working with IIAM has been a very positive experience. When we experience extremely high activity, I appreciate the fact that an IIAM coordinator is expending the same effort to make donations happen. And because I usually speak with the same few people, we’ve made connections. It’s invaluable to call IIAM with a research offer and get the friendly voice of people like Jennifer Senter on the other line. Although we haven’t met, I ‘feel’ her warm personality before we get down to business, and I know she’ll call me back shortly with the case disposition. Thanks, Jen, for the many smiles you give me on those long days. You and the other IIAM coordinators go above and beyond to give Carolina Donor Services the most possible options for our donors.” – Tozel

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