New Organ Recovery Team makes Ohio State transplant surgery smoother than ever

transplant ort_large Top row (left to right): Caleb Ahrns, transplant business manager; Musab Alebrahim, MD, transplant surgeon; Lauren Brewer, organ recovery specialist; Kari Dunham, organ recovery specialist
Bottom row (left to right): Ian McCleese, organ recovery specialist; Dina Patel, organ recovery specialist; Natalie Samijlenko, organ recovery specialist; Margaret Wuebker, organ recovery specialist
Not pictured: Tommie McBride, Travis Camp and Andrew Roberts

A unique team that just celebrated its first anniversary this January has helped facilitate nearly 550 total transplants at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Comprehensive Transplant Center, making these procedures more efficient and more likely to be successful. Year 2 for Ohio State’s Organ Recovery Team — one of just a handful in the United States — looks even brighter.

The Organ Recovery Team (ORT) includes six organ recovery specialists and a surgeon who work 24/7 behind the scenes to manage all organ recovery and transportation logistics for regional and national organ offers of kidney, liver, pancreas, heart and lung transplants. Centralizing these logistical efforts of the organ recovery process means more time for surgical teams to prepare and less time between the organ recovery from the donor and final transplantation — leading to faster, better outcomes.
In its first year, this team fielded more than 5,000 organ offers and arranged for more than 150 organ recovery transport flights. They typically review 15-20 organ offers each day.

“This team coordinates everything from fielding and reviewing the organ offers with the transplant attending to ensuring that the appropriate supplies, medications and solutions are available in the donor operating room,” says Caleb Ahrns, business manager of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Transplant Center. “They also coordinate recipient matching and transportation to get the organ quickly and safely from the donor hospital to Ohio State. This involves countless hours of calls, texts and emails concerning logistical details related to organ recovery.”

Taking care of such details also significantly reduces the risk for mistakes, says Musab Alebrahim, MD, an Ohio State transplant surgeon who works on the team.

Before the ORT was assembled, many of these responsibilities fell to the surgeon accepting the organ. Often, this would take a surgeon several hours in the middle of the night — right before having to perform a lengthy surgery once the organ arrived.

“This leaves the surgeon rested and ready when transplant surgery can begin,” Dr. Alebrahim says.

Similarly, this team allows the entire transplant surgical team, nursing coordinators and OR staff to concentrate on their top priority: a successful surgery for the recipient patient at Ohio State. Instead of managing offer acceptance and coordination, which can occur several hours up to several days before the surgery, transplant teams can use that preparation time to focus on the recipient and their family.

As the team enters its second year, it aims to become even more integrated into operating rooms and in organ preservation. Soon, the ORT will accompany the surgical team to the donor OR to provide on-site assistance and serve as primary communicators back to Ohio State’s implanting team.

Another goal for 2021 is to train the team to preserve deceased-donor kidneys, which Ahrns says will likely number about 250 this year from throughout the country.

ORT members will lead kidney perfusion efforts, which involves pumping the kidney with a preservation fluid and assessing its function for up to 24 hours prior to transplant.  

Dr. Alebrahim notes that, right now, the team is currently training and hiring more experts, with the goal of being ready to take on this critical role in the coming months. 

“We consider ourselves very lucky to have this team,” Dr. Alebrahim says. “It makes everybody’s life easier and improves the overall speed, accuracy and efficiency to reach our goals of saving more lives with excellent outcomes.”