Technology helps connect donors and transplant hospitals in Ontario

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Freedom came for 38-year-old Rizwana Ramzanali’s on August 11, 2004. “When I woke up from my kidney-pancreas transplant surgery, I felt an immediate change in my body. I felt alive.”

She had been waiting for a transplant since March 2004 and was preparing to go to a camp for dialysis patients at 4:30 p.m. on August 10th when she received a call about a potential donor. Within an hour, tests confirmed a suitable match and Rizwana was on her way to London Health Sciences Centre. She had her surgery just before midnight.

For two years, the Trillium Gift of Life Network (TGLN) has used the Smart Systems for Health Agency’s (SSHA’s) secure, private network to connect most donor and transplant hospitals in Ontario. TGLN previously used ISDN connections to transplant centres only. It was cost-prohibitive to connect donor hospitals, so a call centre collected information about potential donors.

Greg Kalyta, director of Information Systems at TGLN adds, “We’re very fortunate to use the SSHA network. It’s faster, cheaper and more secure than the ISDN lines we used. We previously spent about $150,000 annually to connect to 15 sites. SSHA now lets us connect to 75 hospitals using its existing network – this lets us capture information electronically rather than through our call centre. Donor hospitals can now enter information online, including lab results.”

Anything that lets TGLN move more quickly improves their service. Clare Payne, a critical care nurse and Director of the Provincial Resource Centre at TGLN, explains: “Organ viability is key. We have to act quickly to match available organs to potential recipients. Being able to transmit information in an online, real-time environment has made many more transplants possible.”

SSHA has contributed to TGLN’s success and has helped transplants in Ontario grow to an all-time high of 732 in 2004. But the need is much larger, with over 1,900 people waiting for a transplant.

By having information entered online by the donor hospital in a web-based assessment form, TGLN can run applications which match donors to potential recipients more quickly. If it were a manual process, it would take hours.

“SSHA’s network helped TGLN transform our organ and tissue donation processes,” says Clare. “Patient safety is also improved since there is less chance of human error. We also have a better opportunity to manage organ waiting lists.”

Having up-to-the-minute listings of the number of patients waiting for each type of transplant, as well as data on which patients are sickest, improves the way Clare and her team work.

She explains, “TGLN is now in a better position to support both donor and transplant hospitals. We collect so much more information in a more accurate and consistent manner that allows us to allocate organs more quickly and more safely than before when we relied on fax and telephone to communicate. We also have more time to coach nurses at donor hospitals on how to maintain potential donors.”

Rizwana explains the effects of her life-changing surgery: “I no longer have to undergo dialysis treatment three times each week, in four-hour intervals like I had to do for seven years before my transplant. My diabetes is also under control – a condition I dealt with for over 28 years.”

Rizwana can now enjoy more family life with her husband and eight-year-old son, and study for a new career as a medical office assistant. She takes daily medication to prevent organ rejection and visits her doctor monthly for follow-up, but she has more free time than ever.

She says, “I am much more energetic and I have fewer worries than when I had to go for dialysis treatment. I enjoy my newfound freedom. I appreciate how quickly a suitable donor was found and that technology ensured that the match was suitable.”

Understandably, Rizwana is using her time to advocate for organ and tissue donation in Ontario because she knows first-hand the value of the gift that is possible following the loss of a loved one.

TGLN is Ontario’s central organ and tissue donation agency. It plans, promotes, coordinates and supports organ and tissue donation across the province so that more lives can be saved. Visit www.giftoflife.on.ca to learn more.