Whenever you talk to a transplant coordinator it may happen that you hear the word OPO. What the hell does it stand for and what do they do. OPO means Organ Procurement Organization and there are 62 of them in the country grouped in 11 regions. Their role is to promote organ donation in their respective area of responsibilities. They are also mandated by UNOS to organize public activity in order to get more people to sign their card to become organ donor.
Since some state, like Texas, mandates every hospital to report every death (cardiac or brain) to their local OPO. They are getting thousands of calls for potential donors but only few of them end up becoming organ donors. One of the largest OPO in Texas gets over 30,000 calls a year! This is more than 3 calls every single hour 24h a day. The majority of those calls are turned down because the potential donor is too sick with too many infections or something else is wrong. Let me tell you that they screen the patients really good asking tons of questions. Very few patients qualify as organ donor because for several reasons but a lot of them still can be tissue donor candidates.
Once the OPO coordinator decides that they have a potential donor they don’t want anybody, not even the physician, to talk to the family. They have highly trained professionals who will approach the family to discuss about donations. They use different tactics based on the religion or the race. They try very hard to have the family to consent because this is how they make money; by placing organs to patients in needs of transplant. Everybody’s got to make a living! Once a donor becomes available, all the information is entered in the national “website” of UNOS called DonorNet. The donor information is then matched with potential patients on the wait list. Basically the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) only deals with potential donors and their family. They don’t deal with the future transplanted patients. The transplant centers can’t be involved in donors screening as it may raise issues of conflict of interest.