Wait for liver transplant may shorten for Minnesota patients

The wait for a liver transplant in Minnesota may soon shorten. The state would likely benefit from proposed changes to the map that governs who can receive a liver donation.

Sicker patients can receive a liver once it is available in their region or sub-region. The current map has 11 regions and 58 sub-regions. However, because of supply and demand, patients in some states have to be sicker to receiver livers than in other states.

A proposed map would change the 11 regions to eight more equitable regions, where the level of sickness required for a liver would be more uniform across the country — resulting in more equitable waiting times as well.

“It’s an imbalance of supply and demand. And that’s what the whole purpose of redistricting is all about.  It’s really a mathematical way of trying to achieve better supply and demand,” Dr. John Lake, a transplant surgeon at the University of Minnesota, told Fox 9.

Lake says Minnesotans in need of a liver “wait quite a bit longer” than in many other states due to increased demand here; the doctor attributes the demand to the respected University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic providing transplants. Therefore, Lake believes Minnesotans would likely benefit from a change to the map.

“I feel good about the changes. I think they’re long overdue. I think to have had these geographic discrepancies or disparities that have really been dramatic has not been fair. Not to our patients, not to a lot of patients in the country,” Lake said.

Minnesota is part of a sub-region, called a domestic service area (DSA) that includes North Dakota and South Dakota. The University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic are the only two facilities providing liver transplants in this DSA. Minnesota is also part of a region that includes North Dakota, Wisconsin, and part of Illinois. Under the proposed map, Minnesota’s new region would include at least parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri.

Once approved for a transplant, patients receive a MELD or PELD score, based on how urgently he or she needs a liver transplant within three months — the score is on a range from 6 (less sick) to 40 (gravely sick). Once scored, livers are allocated to the most urgent patients in the same region as the donor.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is currently accepting public comment on the proposed map change, as well as other changes.