Proposed change could eliminate New Mexico Donor Services; transplant list in limbo

New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Getting a life-saving transplant could become even harder for the hundreds of New Mexicans awaiting one right now. The organization that works on precious time coordinating transplants may be at risk of getting shut down.

“I would not be here. I don’t know how my family would be,” said Amanda Gabaldon. She needed a new heart. The then-new mom developed a rare kind of heart failure following the birth of her daughter.

“I was transplanted just in time. I had gone through a few offers but I was not able to take those hearts. On the third one, it was really we do this or the other option is you’re no longer with us,” said Gabaldon.

Gabaldon’s life-saving transplant was coordinated by an Organ Procurement Organization, or OPO.

But, now, New Mexico’s only OPO, New Mexico Donor Services, is on the chopping block. “Without those people, how are we getting organs to those who need them? They are the most important middle man there is,” said Gabaldon.

“I know there are some efforts to get it in before the election,” said Wayne Dunlap, the Executive Director of New Mexico Donor Services. There are currently 58 OPOs across the country.

In an attempt to improve organ donations, a proposed federal rule change would only recertify the top 25% (14.5) of existing OPOs and the remaining 75% (43.5) would be shut down. New Mexico Donor Services is currently right on the cusp.

Dunlap says as of now, the rule does not make it clear who would then coordinate organ transplants in New Mexico, leaving the more than 700 New Mexicans awaiting a transplant in limbo.

“There will absolutely be a period of time where we might lose some lives because of that transition, with no plan,” said Dunlap.

However, even if New Mexico Donor Services does make it into the top 25%, inheriting the responsibility of coordinating more transplants happening in other states would overwhelm both them and the other 14 remaining OPOs.

“Just think about our healthcare system, if we decertified 75% of the hospitals, what would that do to the state? What would that do to the remaining 25% of the remaining hospitals?” said Dunlap.

The proposed rule will be decided upon by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, which is part of the national Department of Health and Human Services. Dunlap and Gabaldon hope the proposed rule is amended before a final decision is made.

“It’s life and death and we need to continue to look at it and push and do things better,” said Dunlap.

“I read the proposed bill and was like, this is asinine,” said Gabaldon.

There is not a specific date on when a final decision will be made.

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