Behind-the-scenes look at a group performing life-saving work

Photo of a medical read out. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Daybreak’s Joe Melillo recently got a behind-the-scenes look at the life-saving work of a hospital transplant unit at IU Health University Hospital and learned what it takes to save the lives of some of the patients waiting for an organ.

The team of four perfusionists at University Hospital say their goal is to work as fast as possible. At a moment’s notice they have to jump in a plane and travel anywhere across the country and get organs for transplant.

Domenic Oaks served in the Army, then when he was done he decided he wanted to continue to help people by working in the medical field. He started out transporting patients, now he transports organs. Oaks’ job isn’t easy, he sometimes get a call in the middle of the night and need to be at the airport in one hour. He and a surgeon fly out to another hospital somewhere in the country so they can harvest organs of a donor.

The donor can provide nearly 10 different organs to be donated. Parts like a liver, kidney or even the small intestine can be put on a machine that will keep it ready for surgery.

As quick as they can,  the surgeon and Oaks fly back to Indianapolis with the transplant organs to later be used for a patient waiting on the donor match list. But there’s also another side to this.  You might be surprised to learn that heroin addicts who have died are donating their organs now more than ever.

“When it first started, it was wow they overdosed on heroin now it’s to the point where it’s another one, another one and another one. It’s a regular, almost weekly thing that we go on,” said Oaks.

Patients who receive those organs sign a high-risk waiver form before going into surgery.

IU Health University Hospital has one of the top 10 transplant centers by volume in the United States. The hospital performed 489 lifesaving transplants in 2016, making it the seventh largest transplant center in the nation.