Being wealthy increases odds of receiving organ donation, report shows

Posted at 9:59 PM, Nov 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-10 00:04:52-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A report released Monday to the American Heart Association finds being wealthy betters your odds of receiving a lifesaving organ donation.

It’s not that the rich buy their way up the list.  Instead, the report finds the wealthy can get on more donation lists, bettering their odds.

"I think the organ donation should be given to the sickest of people, regardless of their finances," said Alesha Kolb-Colledge of Tooele.

In 2003, Kolb-Colledge’s husband Tawanee received a liver transplant.  She said for the first time since they were kids, he was healthy.

"We were lucky,” she said. “We got, we got almost 12 more years."

Tawanee got sick again.  In late 2014, he was put back on the transplant list.

Doctors advised his family to get his name on the list at other transplant centers across the country, but it’s not easy.

"You can't just uproot a family to possibly go to another state to receive an organ transplant, it's a lot of money," Kolb-Colledge said.

"Despite being less sick, they are more likely to receive transplants for every single organ type," Dr. Raymond Givens said of wealthy people waiting for organ transplants.

Givens, from Columbia University Medical Center, worked on the report looking at data stretching from 2000-13.  Writing in part:

These findings suggest an advantage for wealthier patients who have the money for travel, temporary housing and other costs of multiple listing that are not covered by health insurance, Givens said. Patients with state-run Medicaid generally have lower income and may not have the option to list themselves at a center in a different state.

"If people can be listed at more than one, should we say no they can't or should we let them?" said Alex McDonald from Intermountain Donor Services in Salt Lake City.

While the study is new, the debate is not.  For years, McDonald said United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit group, which coordinates organ donations nationally, has debated the merits of being listed at more than one donation center.

Ultimately, McDonald said UNOS has decided it is equally unfair to limit people in need if they have the ability to get to the donation center in time. That favors wealthy patients who are more likely to be able to travel on short notice.

Kolb-Colledge brought her husband to the emergency room on Jan. 6.

"I knew that he wasn't going to get a transplant, I knew that he wasn't. The numbers weren't in our favor,” Kolb-Colledge recalled. "I took him to the hospital, not knowing I wouldn't be bringing him home.”

Tawanee died on Jan. 14 waiting for a liver.