CHICAGO (CBS) — For those waiting on a life-saving organ donation, the COVID-19 pandemic poses major challenges.
But CBS 2’s Steven Graves has the story of a paramedic who left a legacy of life after serving on the front lines.
For widow Trisha Putra, it was one of the hardest points of her life.
“I mean, I won’t lie. It was horrible.”
Letting go of her husband Richard in early April as he laid brain dead at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital.
“Seeing him like that, it was difficult but I just had to keep reminding myself it was for people. He was going to save people.”
The paramedic, who died as he worked on the front lines of COVID-19 always wanted to be an organ donor.
“We don’t really know the circumstances of how he passed other than that he was COVID negative,” Putra said.
That meant his heart, lungs, kidneys and liver passed for transplant with initial setbacks.
“At first I was told that they weren’t going to take the kidneys because of COVID. It was considered “non-essential” or “non-life-saving,” Putra said.
And the pandemic poses many organ donor challenges for hospitals around Chicago. Some transplants were put on hold as COVID-19 patients flooded beds. Unknowns about transmission during transplants meant testing for the virus became an extra step.
“It posed a logistical challenge to get the donors tested so if they were clear and negative they could go on to donation,” said University of Chicago transplant surgeon Doctor John Fung.
Right now, more than 4,000 people are on the waiting list in Illinois. If you compare the number of donors in the time of COVID to last year at the same time you can see the decline.
State numbers coming from the Gift of Hope Donor Network that said donations are down 30%.
“There are less people coming into the ICUs with injuries that are consistent with brain death. Fewer car crashes, less work incidents,” said Kevin Cmunt.
Cmunt, of the Gift of Hope Donor Network said said lung transplants have seen the biggest decline. Chicago doctors say things are starting to get back to normal as living donor transplants can start again.
“We’re just now beginning to see some recovery,” said Fung. Richard’s organs, including his kidneys, saved three people. His widow hasn’t met them, and may never get the chance.
But she knows they have a new found hope during a time when it’s much needed.
Doctors hope to be back to normal transplant operations by the end of the year, given there is not a resurgence of COVID-19.