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Fewer traffic collisions during shutdown means longer waits for organ donations

April Dembosky, KQED on

Published in Health & Fitness

SAN FRANCISCO -- On Day Two of the San Francisco Bay Area's stay-at-home orders in March, Nohemi Jimenez got into her car in San Pablo, Calif., waved goodbye to her 3-year-old son and drove to her regular Wednesday dialysis appointment.

The roads were deserted. No traffic. Jimenez, 30, said it is hard to admit what she thought next: No traffic meant no car accidents. And that meant she'd be on the waiting list for a kidney transplant even longer.

"I don't want to be mean, but I was like, 'Oh, my God. Nobody's going to die,'" she said. "I'm not going to get my transplant."

Jimenez was 20 and pregnant with her first child when doctors discovered she had been born with only one kidney, and that lone kidney was failing. By age 29, doctors told her she needed a new one. It was strange and scary, she said, waiting for someone to die so she could live.

"You're just thinking about it," she said. "It's sitting in your mind. It just can never leave you alone."

Deaths from accidents are the biggest source of organs for transplant, accounting for 33% of donations, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, UNOS, which manages the nation's organ transplant system.

 

But since the coronavirus forced Californians indoors, accidents have declined. Traffic collisions and fatalities in the state dropped by half in the first three weeks of sheltering in place, according to a study by the University of California, Davis. Drowning deaths dropped 80% in California, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Stop Drowning Now.

In April organ procurement organizations typically see a surge in donations related to outdoor, spring break-related activities and travel, but not this year.

From March 8 to April 11, the number of organ donors who died in traffic collisions was down 23% nationwide compared with the same period last year, while donors who died in all other types of accidents were down 21%, according to data from UNOS.

"Spring break accidents are almost nonexistent because there's no spring break -- beach accidents, motorcycle accidents, hunting accidents," said Janice Whaley, CEO of Donor Network West, which manages organ donations for Northern California and Nevada.

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