LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nearly 600 Nevadans are on the organ waiting list however, there is only one transplant institute for the entire state.
The state of Colorado has four transplant centers, meanwhile, the states of Arizona and Washington each have five transplant centers. The state of Missouri has eight transplant services.
Kirsten Uzzardo is one of the thousands of Nevadas forced to leave Nevada for an organ transplant.
“I was struggling to get a kidney here so the doctors recommended I go out of state,” said Uzzardo. “We needed to be done there for 6 weeks minimum if things went well.”
Once Kirsten and her husband Vinni received the call they dropped everything to get to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix at the height of the pandemic.
“I had to give her a kiss goodbye and wave her through the door I couldn’t even go in,” Vinni tells 8 News Now.
University Medical Center is the only transplant center in the state and it only performs kidney transplants. Last year the hospital performed 138 transplants.
Steve Peralta is the Nevada Donor Network’s foundation president and expanded on the issue facing many in need of transplants across Nevada.
“A heart transplant, a lung transplant, a liver, pancreas, Nevadans are having to leave and relocate outside of our state,” he said.
Right now there are nearly 600 Nevadans on the waiting list. Many of them will have to relocate to save their lives.
It’s exactly what Osker Gamboa says he and his mother had to do. He says they spent six months in Los Angeles getting his heart transplant. They say the time away created a huge financial and emotional burden.
Vinni says the recovery for his wife would’ve been easier had she been able to do so from the comforts of her own home.
“Being able to take her and put her on her own couch or her own bed to fully just recuperate would have been so much easier,” he added.
Elevating and expanding UMC to a fully accredited institute will take time and money, as much as $35M. Currently, the Nevada Donor Network is about a third of the way there.
“We’ve got to get accredited, licensed, once we’re able to do that just like any other hospital procedure we can get reimbursed,” Peralta said.
It will take years to eventually offer all organ transplants. For those waiting the procedure will likely mean leaving your home, your job, and even your family in order to stay alive.
“Enjoy what you can enjoy, better days to come,” adds Kirsten.
Her husband agrees. “Enjoy life every minute of it,” said Vinni.
Southern Nevadan’s are generous when it comes to becoming an organ donor.
About 54% of the state is registered, which is higher than average.
More diversity is also needed to turn organ donation into the gift of life.