Mayo Clinic to establish organ donor care unit at Rochester campus

18 July 2023

ROCHESTER Later this summer, Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys will open a new inpatient unit for deceased organ donors and their families, the health system announced Monday.

“This unit will ensure that the donor’s decision is honored to the fullest extent and allows more people on the waiting list to have a chance at full recovery and long-term survival,” said Dr. Julie Heimbach, director of the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center in Rochester.

The donor care unit, or DCU, at Mayo Clinic will be established in collaboration with LifeSource, the organ procurement organization that covers Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin. It will be one of two DCUs in Minnesota the second will be at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis.

“There are probably 20 to 25 of the 57 organ procurement organizations across the country that have or are developing donor care units,” said Meg Rogers, director of transplant center relations at LifeSource. “We have learned that it’s a best practice and can lead to more organs transplanted.”

When the DCU comes online at Saint Marys, deceased patients who meet the consent and eligibility criteria for organ donation will be transferred into the DCU from a Saint Marys ICU room or another hospital.

“The patient remains on a ventilator, so they remain in intensive care,” Rogers said. “By bringing them to this donor care unit, where they receive centralized care from experts, there’s medical management, there’s work done to improve lung function, to give the body a chance to have the heart recover some function so that it may be able to be transplanted.”

The DCU will have its own set of machines to perform diagnostic tests such as X-rays, echocardiograms and CT scans to streamline the process of learning which of the donor’s organs are suitable for transplant and matching those organs with compatible recipients.

“The DCU is a care unit, similar to any other intensive care structure,” Heimbach said. “For organ recovery, where we do the surgery to remove organs from the donor is done in the operating room. Organs are then actually taken to where the recipients are.”

Streamlining the organ recovery process in a dedicated unit will not only ensure that more ICU beds are available to other patients, but the quicker process will help donors’ family members, like Chris Howard. Her husband, Eric Howard, a farmer, died at Saint Marys two years ago.

“Eric and I had been together since the summer after eighth grade, so we’d had plenty of time to have all those tough conversations,” Howard said. “And I was able to say, without a doubt, yes, we wanted to donate.”

The DCU will occupy existing space within Saint Marys, and the number of patient beds available will be flexible to fit the unit’s current needs, Rogers said.

“They’ll be bringing organ donors (in) from across the three-state area, and we’ll be able to care for whatever that volume is,” Rogers said. “That’s the beauty of this collaboration and why it will work so well.”

Across the United States, more than 104,000 people are on the organ transplant waiting list, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.


Need help?

If you need support, please send an email to [email protected]

Thank you.