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Donor families help dedicate a first-of-a-kind organ recovery center

The new Center for Life at University Hospital to increase organ donations and assist families

The families of organ donors and transplant recipients Saturday joined in the dedication of a first-of-its-kind center aimed at saving additional lives through increased organ donation and research, while providing families with a setting that allows them to honor their loved ones in a more timely way.

The new Center for Life, located at University Hospital, is a collaboration that includes Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, TOSA, the organ procurement organization that provides donation and recovery services in Central and South Texas; University Hospital and its Transplant Center; GenCure tissue recovery; and the San Antonio Eye Bank.

Michael Russos and Amparo Marles

University Hospital Administrator Michael Russos comforts Amparo Marles, a chaplain and mother of a son whose donated organs saved other lives after his fatal car accident. Marles told an audience at the Center for Life dedication that the new center is a “sacred” space.

The facility, staffed by TOSA and University Hospital employees, will provide space to maintain organ donors prior to their donations. Dedicated surgical suites and medical staff will work to fulfill a patient’s wishes and help the greatest number of recipients possible. The Center for Life’s association with the UT Health San Antonio academic medical staff at University Hospital will also enable the team to conduct research aimed at further improving organ recovery.

Amparo Marles, the mother of a son who donated organs following a fatal car crash, called the Center for Life a “sacred” space. “It’s a place where grief will bring life and hope,” she said tearfully, adding her son’s organs gave life to seven others.

Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, director of the University Transplant Center, said 22 people on organ waiting lists in the United States die each day as they await transplantation. The primary goal of the Center, he said, is “to remedy the shortage of organ and tissue donations.”

Currently, dying patients who want to donate are often cared for in facilities that don’t have adequate staffing or surgical space to effectively recover all of the organs patients have offered for others in need. The Center for Life will resolve those challenges for hospitals and families, which will increase the number of organs each donor can contribute. The Center will also include a dedicated family area that will provide a respectful place for loved ones to gather and say goodbye.

“It’s important to us that our families can begin the grieving process and start making funeral arrangements for their loved one,” said TOSA President & CEO Dr. Joseph Nespral. “Ultimately, this also helps us accomplish our mission, which is to save lives through the power of organ donation; the fact that we can complete both objectives makes our new endeavor all the more necessary.”

“The Center for Life offers a great opportunity for University Hospital to further fulfill its mission of offering life-saving services to patients in need,“ said Mike Roussos, the administrator at University Hospital. “We have proudly watched as our University Transplant Center works with community partners to expand the availability of donor organs and provide transplants for patients who might otherwise spend years on a waiting list. We are honored to have this state-of-the-art facility in our hospital, which will offer a dignified setting for donor families, as their loved ones provide the gift of life to others.”

The Center will also have the only known biorepository and research facility of its kind. It will house collections of cryopreserved human cells and donor information from those who have agreed to participate.

“Programs are under development so that staff, physicians and allied health professionals in training will learn more deeply about how they can improve organ and tissue donation,” said Jennifer Milton, chief administrative officer for University Transplant Center.

Organs recovered at the Center for Life will continue to be provided to recipients based on criteria established through the national organ waiting lists. The difference is that more organs will be recovered, reducing the long wait for many patients who need help.

Nationwide, 113,800 people are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, including more than 10,000 Texans. A single person has the power to save eight lives as an organ donor and improve the lives of 75 others through tissue donation.

People can sign up to be an organ donor at Donate Life Texas.

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