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Tracking Transplants

Darren Stewart ’98 MS works on research to help improve how vital organs get to recipients.

By Carole Tanzer Miller

Darren Stewart ’98 MS decided long ago to donate his organs when he dies — and he hopes you will too. After all, improving access to life-saving transplants is part of his job description.

Stewart, 47, is the principal research scientist for the United Network for Organ Sharing — a Virginia-based nonprofit that oversees organ transplants in the U.S. under a contract with the federal government. After turns in the aircraft and banking industries, he joined UNOS in 2008. He’s been crunching transplant data ever since.

Among other things, he tracks donor numbers, how long patients wait for an organ and survival rates at more than 250 U.S. hospitals where transplants are done. The aim is a process that’s fair, equitable and transparent. “We’re mining all this data to make better decisions,” says Stewart, who works from his home in Coatesville, Pa.

Last year alone, he contributed to or led five peer-reviewed studies. One that examined a points-based system for ranking lung transplant recipients is expected to trigger reforms later this year. “One of the big challenges in our field is ensuring we’re maximizing the organ supply that’s available today,” he says, “and there’s a lot of reason to believe we’re not quite there yet.”

One of the big challenges . . . is ensuring we’re maximizing the organ supply that’s available today.

That’s why he’s proud of leading a simulation to learn how transplant doctors use kidney biopsy results to decide whether to accept a match from a deceased donor. The findings bolstered claims that transplant-quality kidneys were being discarded, and recommended reforms are under review as a result. Previously, Stewart’s models led to a new way to calculate patients’ time on the waiting list — an overhaul that boosted transplant rates among Blacks and Hispanics.

But, he says, the work’s not done. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, intestines, combinations of organs, or tissue — and every 10 minutes another name is added to the list.

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