There are currently over 6,000 people on the UK organ transplant list, the NHS has an action plan to increase the number of consenting organ donors from 57% in 2012/13 to over 80% by 2020. Here at Flightserve we are extremely proud to be a small part of the organ donation process by aiding in the transport of organs via aircraft.
Each organ has a different lifespan once retrieved from the human body. Some of the more time critical organs such as hearts have to be “skin to skin” within 4 hours. As I’m sure you can imagine, this restricts the number of donors available to a recipient simply due to geography. Where ground transport cannot be used due to the travel time, aircraft are brought in to help maximize the number of suitable organs available to recipients on the waiting list.
Whilst the use of aircraft in organ donation ensures quicker transportation of organs from donor to recipient, this doesn’t mean that they are any less time critical. As a company, we deal with requests to assist with the transport of organ retrieval teams and transplant organs on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis. These requests usually require an aircraft to be at the closest available airport to the donor hospital within 3 hours. Within this time, a lot happens behind the scenes and we are lucky to have built up reliable and trusting relationships with many operators thought the UK and Europe, all of which have extensive experience in what it takes to ensure a medical organ flight runs as smoothly and as quickly as possible. All flights carrying organs are filed as a ‘CAT A’, this gives the pilot special dispensation over all other aircraft and offers the most direct route to the destination airfield.
It is our job to ensure that every person involved in the transport process is aware of the time critical emphasis the job entails; from making sure the aircraft arrives on the ground for the time specified, asking for fuel to be available upon arrival to save any additional waiting, liaising with handling agents to ensure the quick carriage of organ from ambulance to aircraft and keeping the pilot/operator informed of any information received and when the organ leaves the hospital so that they can prepare the aircraft and arrange flight plans. Communication is key. In private aviation, the operator would usually have at least a few days to ensure everything is set up and in place for a flight, with organ flights all the preparation has is normally completed within 1 hour of confirmation. The entire process is very much a team effort that is made easier due to the shared knowledge of the importance of the flight.
In recent technology, the world’s first portable system, the Organ Care System (OCS) which keeps human hearts functioning as normal outside of the human body became available in Europe. The OCS increases the time a human heart can survive outside of the body by simulating the conditions of the human body, allowing it to remain warm and functioning until it is transplanted. This ground-breaking system has further expanded the pool of suitable hearts by relieving time pressures which allows suitable hearts to be brought to recipients from further distances. It is hoped that in the next few years, this machine will be available for other organs such as Livers, something which in turn is contributing to the NHS’ mission to improve the rate of successful organ transplants.
Unfortunately, whilst successful organ donation is on the rise, in 2018 over 400 people died whilst waiting for a transplant. In the UK, the NHS Organ Donor Register is an opt in system, if you would like to potentially save lives in the further please visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk to register your wish to donate and for more information on how you can help.