“A key motivation behind this study was our inability to act, under current guidelines, on the direct requests from parents faced with the loss of their newborn who turned to us wanting their child to be an organ donor,” said Richard Parad, MD, MPH, a neonatologist in the Newborn Medicine Department at BWH. Dr. Parad explains that some parents want their child to be an organ donor to help create at least one positive outcome from their tragic loss.
Currently, infants and young children in need of an organ transplant may only receive an organ from an older child, or part of an organ from an adult. In addition to the challenge of making a larger organ fit in a smaller infant body, demand is currently in excess of supply for these adult organs.
The researchers conducted a retrospective study, looking at all infant deaths at three academic medical center Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) between 2005 and 2007. They determined eligible donors based criteria developed with transplantation surgeons and the New England Organ Bank. Out of 192 deaths, based on time of death after being taken off life support, they estimated that 14 livers, 18 kidneys and 10 hearts might be made available for transplantation.
“As the first study to address this sensitive subject, our main objective was to provide data regarding the availability of infant donors. Further investigation into this potential falls to those in the fields of transplant medicine and ethics. We feel we owe it to the families who request organ donation to be part of the conversation by investigating the size of the potential donor population.” said study co-author, Anne Hansen, MD, MPH, of Children’s Hospital Boston.
Study authors also include Michelle Labrecque, RN, MSN, of Children’s Hospital Boston and Munish Gupta, Md, MMSc, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.