December 16, 2021: ARORA, the largest organ, tissue and eye recovery agency in Arkansas, has recovered more organs so far in 2021 than in any other year in its three-decade history.
The agency reports 101 organ donors and 300 organs transplanted as of Dec. 13, representing a significant increase from previous years’ data. The number of organ donors and transplanted organs in 2021 is double what was recorded in 2017. It shows about a one-third increase since 2018-2020, when the agency reported an annual average of 64 organ donors and just more than 200 transplanted organs.
“The hundreds of lives saved, and thousands of lives restored through these gifts and recoveries — the human impact, their relief, their joy — is almost unimaginable,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, adding a message of gratitude to ARORA. “Thank you for the care and service you have given to families who lost loved ones and who made these precious gifts possible. This year has continued to be a tumultuous and challenging time in Arkansas health care, but like so many Arkansas health care heroes, you adapted and made the changes necessary to make organ donation successful.”
ARORA Executive Director Alan Cochran credits the generosity of Arkansans, the hard work of the ARORA staff, and the performance of the organization’s partners in the medical community and beyond for the increase in life-restoring donations.
“For this milestone of a record number of lives restored, we owe it to individuals and families who made the selfless act of authorizing donation, in addition to the diligent efforts of ARORA staff. We are also incredibly grateful to our partners, from hospitals making referrals, to the office of the Medical Examiner, coroners, funeral homes and transplant centers. Without each of these groups working together, the gift of life through organ, tissue and eye donation would not be possible,” Cochran said.
Regina Henthorne’s 19-year-old daughter, Rebekah, died suddenly this past summer after a shooting in a Monticello home. Henthorne says her daughter always wanted to help others, and registering to become an organ and tissue donor was an example of that generosity.
“Rebekah made the decision to be an organ donor at the age of 17,” Henthorne said. “I remember the day she signed up. She was so excited and told me all about it. She researched everything before she made her decision.
“She said, ‘Momma, if I’m dead, I don’t need my organs, but someone else might,’” Henthorne said. “I consider my daughter a hero. She saved five lives on June 28.”
Many organs recovered by ARORA stay here in Arkansas. There are three transplant centers in the state: UAMS, Arkansas Children’s and Baptist Health.
“Our successes directly translate to more organ, tissue and eye transplants for Arkansans and others,” said David Warner, M.D., medical director of Arkansas Lions Eye Bank at the UAMS Jones Eye Institute.
While the state has seen an uptick in organ, tissue and eye donation across the board, Warner said UAMS, in particular, has increased capacity in this area. “I believe that the partnership between ARORA and UAMS is stronger than ever, and we are now seeing the effects of the intentional steps we have taken to streamline the donation process and maximize our opportunity to provide these life-saving gifts,” he said.
ARORA and UAMS have worked together to create a centralized donor management system located at UAMS. This allows ARORA to transfer authorized organ donors from hospitals across the state to a central facility and provides ARORA immediate access to experts in donor management and the ability to complete necessary testing in a fast and efficient manner. The goal is to maximize the gift the donor has made to save as many lives as possible.
The fact that donations were able to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic is an even greater feat, Warner said. COVID-positive patients were ineligible for donation in 2021, and the pandemic resulted in “increased stress on everyone and everything.”
Warner attributes the record year to front-line personnel who are dedicated to making donations happen, including nurses, physicians and allied health professionals.
“I have seen firsthand how organ donation is saving lives,” said Donna Givens, a registered nurse and director of critical care at Baptist Health. “Thanks to an increase in Arkansans choosing to give the gift of life, we have seen even more patients have a chance at a new beginning.”
While the agency is reporting record numbers for 2021, the year is not yet over. There will likely be even more lives restored before Dec. 31.
“As a health care professional it is such an honor to be part of our local increase in organ donations and to see a record number of donations in Arkansas this year,” said Julius Balogh, M.D., director of cardiovascular ICU and division chief of anesthesia critical care medicine at UAMS. “No matter how many organ donations I am involved in, every time, as we care for these donors and their families, it hits me how special they are to give this gift of life. It is wonderful to see more people recognize how life-changing these donations are.”
In addition to organ and tissue recovery, ARORA provides support for donor families and recipients even years after donation, and the organization also works toward educating the community on donation, encouraging individuals to consider registering to become organ, tissue and eye donors. ARORA also has grown its staff to achieve increased coverage across Arkansas while stepping up education on donation through a statewide public information campaign to help raise awareness.
Many Arkansans are aware that they can register to become an organ and tissue donor when renewing their driver’s licenses at the DMV. Individuals may register online at www.arora.org/donatelife, or by visiting a registration kiosk at one of several locations across the state.
For more information on organ donation and ARORA, or to listen to heartfelt stories around organ and tissue donation, go to www.arora.org or follow ARORA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.