In 1999, fans across the globe were saddened to learn that NFL great and Mississippian Walter Payton died of a rare liver disease. In the months leading up to his death, Payton publicly advocated for organ transplants, but passed away before a donor liver could be secured.
That scenario continues to play out across the state. But a new law raises the hopes of the 130,000-plus Mississippians waiting — and desperately hoping — for an organ or tissue transplant.
Senate Bill 2217, authored by Sen. Dean Kirby (District 30), passed the Senate on a vote of 51-0 on Feb. 5. House members approved the measure on March 5 with a vote of 119-2.
Gov. Phil Bryant signed it into law March 12.
The legislation removed the periodic review of the Mississippi Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) that initially passed the legislature in 2008.
“This law ensures first person consent and donation will occur during a medical legal investigation,” said Kevin Stump, CEO of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (MORA). “We lobbied very hard to get the UAGA passed in 2008 because Mississippi was one of the last states to have a donor registry.
The Mississippi Uniform Anatomical Gift Act was a key component in establishing the state’s first donor registry, which currently holds 641,000 registered Mississippians who have signed up to donate organs and tissue for transplantation. In addition to supporting each individual’s right to be a donor, the Mississippi Uniform Anatomical Gift Act endorses collaboration between donation and transplant professionals with those involved in medical legal investigation, all aimed at increasing donations throughout Mississippi.
In 2013, 229 organs from 70 donors were transplanted through MORA. MORA also had 142 tissue donors in 2013.
Stump said it is hard to calculate exactly how much shorter wait times will be under the new law.
“Wait times vary by blood type and the organ needed for transplant,” he said. “That said, due to the organ donation rates in Mississippi, the University of Mississippi Medical Center has some of the shortest waiting times in the country to get a transplant.”
The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) has been a leader in organ transplants. In 2011, UMC physicians performed the first pediatric heart transplant. The following year, UMC began offering liver transplants, and set a record of 103 kidney transplants that same year after seeing a significant drop in those types of procedures. And last year, surgeons at UMC transplanted a pancreas and kidney into a patient, marking the first such event for the state and final piece of UMC’s abdominal transplant line.
Christopher D. Anderson, M.D., a Lucedale native and University of Southern Mississippi graduate who returned to Mississippi in 2011 to serve as associate professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Transplant and Hepatobillary Surgery at UMC, said, “My vision is that first we meet all the transplant needs for citizens of Mississippi, and second that we become a regional center for transplants.”
Anything that facilitates organ donation is a positive, Stump said.
“Ten years ago, about 30 percent of families said yes to donations; today it’s 75 to 80 percent for organs and 40 percent for tissue,” he said. “Donating is really a chance to be a hero after you leave this earth, and it really does save lives.”