Turn to Tara: COVID-19 made NY’s organ transplant problems even worse
Long before the coronavirus took its grip on across the globe, New York was facing a different crisis that has been made even worse by the crisis – a severe shortage of organ transplants.
The state is home to one of the longest transplant wait lists in the nation since it ranks 50th in donations.
Tara McKeegan, of Pearl River, was diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis. In an interview months ago with News 12, she said a bout with pneumonia at age 35 forced her on to the state wait list for a lung transplant where she languished for nearly a year.
"My window was there, and I was potentially one infection away from the other side," she said.
At that point, it was either leave New York, she said, or die. Much to her shock, she was back home within two months with two new lungs.
Five years into her recovery, McKeegan became a powerful voice in the fight to reform New York's broken organ donation system. The COVID-19 pandemic sadly ended her advocacy. She died at age 41.
Helen Irving, president of Live On NY, the organization that oversees organ procurement in New York City and its suburbs, says COVID-19 is making a terrible problem even worse.
“We're not always able to get all the testing that's needed because most of the testing is not necessarily available at this time,” she says. “We've also had transplant programs that have decided they will only transplant those patients that are critical and may die in the next 48 to 72 hours.”
In the month of April alone, local transplants were down a staggering 90%. Many patients have to stay on dialysis longer, while dialysis centers across the state are battling a major supply chain problem.
Roxanne Watson, also an organ transplant recipient and good friend to McKeegan, says "The fight lives on."