Study: Need a transplant...move to the city

New Media Producer: Amanda Lents

More than 25,000 people in the United States undergo organ transplants each year.

But a new study finds that depending on where you live, you may be less likely to receive the organ transplant you need.

Lisa Chronis has spent years battling diabetes and kidney disease. When her kidney function failed, she knew an organ transplant would be one of her few options.

Lisa says, "It's either dialysis, transplant or death. Those are your three options."

Lisa's husband Marc donated a kidney to her last year. Lisa lives in rural New Hampshire and her transplant experience went rather smoothly.

However, a new study in Journal of the American Medical Association finds that many patients living in rural America are less likely to receive organ transplants than patients living in urban areas.

Dr. David Axelrod with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center says, "What we found was that patients who lived in the country were less likely to receive a heart, liver or kidney transplant compared to patients who lived in the city."

Dr. Axelrod is a researcher at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He and his colleagues found that patients living in isolated rural areas were up to 15% less likely to be placed on waiting lists for organ transplantation.

Those same patients are also up to 20% less likely to undergo heart, liver and kidney transplants compared to patients living in urban settings.

Dr. Axelrod says, "When you look at our study it suggests that the barrier to transplantation is not from within the transplant centers but it's really the barriers to getting in the front door in the first place."

Transportation can be a problem because most transplant centers are located in urban areas and patients require several follow-up visits.

Dr. Axelrod says,"We need to consider is it reasonable for someone to drive eight or ten hours on a regular basis just to have healthcare."

Luckily Lisa was able to find a center an hour and a half from her home. Not exactly close but she knows others who have to drive even farther.

Lisa says, "I think one of the points I'd like to make is the closer you are, the more likely you are to be compliant with what is necessary."

She says having closer access means family members are also more likely to be there with you. That weighed heavily into her decision to proceed with the transplant she needed.

The study in JAMA looked at a national sample of transplant patients over a five year period from 1999 to 2004.

Dr. Axelrod says further studies are necessary to fully understand the differences in transplant rates and the potential barriers in access to care.