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Despite COVID restrictions, Iowa Donor Network reports record number of transplants, organ donors in 2020

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 10:26 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Despite restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of organs were transplanted in Iowa in 2020.

The Iowa Donor Network reported 300 organ transplants occurred last year, and 103 people donated organs, another new high.

“And the result is more lives than ever before are being saved through organ donation,” Heather Butterfield, director of strategic communications for the Iowa Donor Network, said.

While organ donation numbers in Iowa were down at the start of the pandemic, donations never stopped.

“We continued to work very closely with our healthcare partners to ensure that, despite the challenging circumstances, organ donation could continue,” Butterfield said.

But pandemic restrictions did cut down on the number of eligible donors, as people who have COVID at the time of their death cannot donate organs or tissue.

According to the Iowa Donor Network, that kept two Iowans from donating organs after they died and stopped more than 2,600 people in the state from donating tissue.

Butterfield said the best way to work with those COVID restrictions on organ donations is for more people to register to donate their organs after they die. People can register on the Iowa Donor Network’s website, at the DMV when obtain or renew their driver’s license, or through the Department of Natural Resources when they apply for a hunting or fishing license.

“It takes less than a minute to register as a donor. Anyone of any age, regardless of medical history, can register to become a donor,” she said.

While Butterfield said the Iowa Donor Network has seen an 87% increase in the number of organ donors from 2016 to 2020, the need is still great.

“There’s still more than 108,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the United States right now,” Butterfield said, with more than 500 of them in Iowa.

Phil Lewis of West Branch is no longer on that list after waiting more than two-and-a-half years for a new heart.

“The first couple months were kind of stressful because every time the phone rang, you didn’t know if it was the call you were waiting for for a transplant,” he said.

Lewis finally got that call last June and underwent a 14-hour surgery to receive his new heart the next day at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City.

He said while the first few months following his transplant were more challenging as his body acclimated to its new heart, he hasn’t had any major issues.

“I just tell people, you might not know who you’re going to help,” Lewis said. “It’s just amazing the amount of people that can have a better life, physical better life, than what they had before.”

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