COVID-19 pandemic slows down process for organ transplants in central NC, around the US


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – COVID-19 has slowed down the organ-transplant process in central North Carolina and across the country. Nicholas Owen and his younger sister Melissa are two of the people waiting for their surgeries.

They’ve always been close, but they said this process is bringing them closer.

“She and I have been best friends since the day she was born,” Nicholas said.

“He’s my best friend,” Melissa said.

Melissa will save her brother’s life with her kidney.

“We have found out that we’re a match and he’s getting my right kidney,” Melissa said.

“I love her so much for this,” Nicholas said.

It’s been a painful process for the 33-year-old. He was diagnosed with kidney failure three years ago.

“I have days where I can’t even get out of bed,” Nicholas said. “I’m in so much pain and so much discomfort from this.”

And now, while waiting on the transplant surgery to happen, COVID-19 is adding an extra worry for patients like Nicholas.

“The coronavirus is a big fear factor for anybody in my position,” Nicholas said. “I can tell you I’ve had nights where I don’t sleep because I’m worried I won’t wake up.”

The transplant team at UNC will be performing the surgeries. Dr. David Gerber said it’s a balancing act right now between figuring out how to keep surgeries happening while at the same time protecting staff and patients from getting the virus.

“This kept us awake many nights thinking about what can we safely do for our patients,” Gerber said.

He said they’re looking at them on a case by case basis.

“Right now, I feel comfortable coming off the pause.”

Raising money for transplants is also an issue since big events are largely impossible to hold at this time. The Owens are turning to GoFundMe and their church family for help.

“You have to stay grounded in your faith,” Nicholas said.

“I’m just so excited to have a healthy brother again,” Melissa said.

Gerber said anyone interested in becoming a donor can begin the program virtually.

“This is a complex and unprecedented time for all of us,” Gerber said. “I think the important thing to realize is we are all working at this together.”

“There are people out there every day whose lives you can impact,” Melissa said. “The hashtag we use is #ShareYourSpare.”

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