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Arkansas nonprofit says 2021 was its best year for procuring organs for transplants

The Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency says as of Dec. 13 it had procured 300 organs from 101 donors to be used for transplant operations.
Michael Hibblen
The Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency, which works to procure organs that can be used in transplant operations, says 2021 was its best year to date.

The Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency says it set a record in 2021 for the number of organs donated that could be used in transplant operations.

The nonprofit agency, which was established in 1987, says as of Dec. 13 organs from 101 people enabled 300 transplants to take place. That surpassed last year’s total of 217 organs donated and was double the number it received in 2017.

Audrey Coleman, director of communications for ARORA, said in an interview that while the agency has worked to make it easier for people to become organ donors, she’s surprised to beat its previous record amid the ongoing pandemic.

The increase had nothing to do with deaths from COVID-19, the agency says. Organs and tissues from people who test positive for the virus are not eligible to be used for donations.

"One would expect with all that has happened with the pandemic, with people not being out and about quite as much as on ordinary years that our numbers would decline," Coleman said. "We really attribute this increase just to the generosity of Arkansans and Arkansans becoming much more aware of the need for organs and tissues for donation."

Most people agree to become organ donors by checking a box when getting or renewing a driver’s license. The group, which operates in 64 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, has also added kiosks in public buildings that allow people to register to be organ donors.

A graph shows trends over the last four years for the Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency.
A graph shows trends over the last four years for the Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency.

"Our donor registry is constantly increasing in numbers and we really have made a concerted effort, as we do every year, but I don’t know, we think that perhaps maybe the messaging has been more accessible to people this year," Coleman said. "Regardless, we certainly do thank Arkansans simply for understanding the importance of saving lives through donations."

ARORA is one of four organizations in the state that procure organs for transplant operations. Many of the organs it recovers are used for operations at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Baptist Health in Little Rock and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

In a statement included in a press release from ARORA, Gov. Asa Hutchinson praised the group for its work.

"The hundreds of lives saved, and thousands of lives restored through these gifts and recovers – the human impact, their relief, their joy – is almost unimaginable," Hutchinson said. "Thank you for the care and service you have given to families who lost loved ones and who made these precious gifts possible. This year has continued to be a tumultuous and challenging time in Arkansas health care, but like so many Arkansas health care heroes, you adapted and made the changes necessary to make organ donation successful."

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.