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How the opioid crisis saves lives, even if it kills thousands

Drug overdose killed at least 3,100 in the state last year, but there is some comfort for the cruel news: an uptick in organ transplants. Organ transplants are on their way up in New Jersey despite a low low frequency of people registering as donors during their lives. This is partly because the proportion of organs from overdose donors, which is largely driven by the opioid crisis, went from close to 0 in 2000 to 26 percent in 2016, according to a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine. These patients tend to be younger but also have an increased risk of transmitted infections such as hepatitis C, which means that hospitals must be careful to test potential donations. Hospitals and non-profit organizations do a better job managing donors after they are gone, testing their hearts quickly and convincing families to donate their beloved people's organs and tissues, according to Joe Roth, CEO of NJ Sharing Network, who buys waiting list agencies in most New Jersey. NJSN's organ transplants have increased 35 percent over the past six years with 678 transplants, a trend reflected nationally, according to their newly released data. They also saw a record number of heart and eye operations. Core operations have particularly flourished because that part of the eye is now "in plentiful supply," says Roth. "It has become almost an elective surgery" he said. "Families (by donors) seem to be more susceptible to the idea of ​​donating eyes." South New Jersey has seen a similar…

Drug overdose killed at least 3,100 in the state last year, but there is some comfort for the cruel news: an uptick in organ transplants.

Organ transplants are on their way up in New Jersey despite a low low frequency of people registering as donors during their lives. This is partly because the proportion of organs from overdose donors, which is largely driven by the opioid crisis, went from close to 0 in 2000 to 26 percent in 2016, according to a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

These patients tend to be younger but also have an increased risk of transmitted infections such as hepatitis C, which means that hospitals must be careful to test potential donations.

Hospitals and non-profit organizations do a better job managing donors after they are gone, testing their hearts quickly and convincing families to donate their beloved people’s organs and tissues, according to Joe Roth, CEO of NJ Sharing Network, who buys waiting list agencies in most New Jersey.

NJSN’s organ transplants have increased 35 percent over the past six years with 678 transplants, a trend reflected nationally, according to their newly released data. They also saw a record number of heart and eye operations.

Core operations have particularly flourished because that part of the eye is now “in plentiful supply,” says Roth.

“It has become almost an elective surgery” he said. “Families (by donors) seem to be more susceptible to the idea of ​​donating eyes.”

South New Jersey has seen a similar increase, according to Gift of Life, serving that area along with East Pennsylvania and Delaware. Last year, the program provided 1

31 organs and 165 corneas from New Jersey donors. Although they did not have NJ-specific data, they noted a 36% increase in transplants throughout the region over the past six years.

Nevertheless, the increase in transplants has not necessarily been translated into better experiences for patients in the transplant waiting list, which are swelling in size as the Baby Boomer’s age, Roth said. Elderly patients are the most vulnerable to later stage organ failure.

In 2018, 100 people died in New Jersey and were waiting for an agency, says Elisse Glennon, Executive Vice President of NJSN. Around 4000 are on the list while waiting for a phone call.

And despite better results and better awareness of transplants, only one third of New Jersey residents are registered organ donors, Glennon says. The majority of donations come from families who approve the transplant after their beloved death.

The majority of registration happens at the Department of Motor Vehicles, but residents can also register online.

When an organ is available, you get it The recipient is a scramble that can involve phone calls on late night and last flights. NJSN has hundreds of employees and volunteers helping to coordinate getting Organ A to Patient B.

Samantha Denti is too familiar with that rush. A Toms River native, Denti saw that her father had a heart transplant when she was 10 – then past six weeks later when his body rejected the donation.

Five years ago, the 28-year-old Denti began to experience strange symptoms: bony discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea. Her doctor was confused; she never had chest pain. But her heart was silent and filled with fluid.

She spent three months at the Newark Beth Israel Hospital and slipping into a coma at one point. She was revived twice. On September 27, 2013, her nurse pulled her mother aside and said Denti needed a heart for the next 24 hours or she would die.

Within 13 hours she had a new heart.

“It’s been five years, and I still can’t believe I’m here,” she said. She came out of her hospital bed determined to honor her donor by living her life to the full.

Denti volunteers for NJSN and plays basketball and volleyball with Team Liberty, a team of transplant recipients. She is eager to compete in the Transplant games at Meadowlands Stadium in 2020.

Smaller aspects of her life have changed as well. She hosts an annual “heartaversy” party with her friends and family. And she loves to run around with her younger cousin, godson and nephew.

“Before, my nephew used to ask if we could go out and jump in puddles and after five minutes I would be exhausted,” she said. “Now he’s angry that I’m slipping into the first base.”

Erin Petenko can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @EPetenko . Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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