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1997

  • “Transplanting Life,” The Plain Dealer investigative series on the nation’s organ-transplant system, Feb. 2-6, 1997. Designed and carried out the the statistical analysis of 55,900 transplants carried out over four years to determine whether low-volume transplant centers had higher mortality rates than high-volume centers. The series won The Newspaper Guild’s 1997 Heywood Broun Award and helped change federal policy regarding organ transplants.

Summary from Investigative Reporters and Editors

The series revealed that hundreds of patients were waiting for lifesaving organ transplants that may never come because their hospitals were turning away large numbers of healthy donor organs for nonmedical reasons, such as a surgeon being unavailable. Many of them died. The story also examined inequities in patient waiting times across the country, telling the stories of patients who had just months to live, but who were at hospitals where the median waiting time was measured in years. Using computer-assisted reporting, the authors analyzed 55,900 transplants and found that the patients who received transplants at centers that do few operations were significantly more likely to die within the first year than patients who received transplants at high-volume centers. The story also found that about half the transplant centers in the country were doing too few transplants to be proficient at the delicate surgery. The series includes the publication of a list of waiting times and mortality rates for more than 600 transplant programs. Center-identified waiting time information is critical to the more than 55,000 patients awaiting a lifesaving transplant, yet it had been impossible for patients to obtain because the private, nonprofit group (UNOS) that keeps the figures wouldn’t release them. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Plain Dealer obtained and published these waiting time and organ-refusal figures that had never before been made public.

© John Bare Papers 2013