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Coronavirus Latest: Organ Transplants Continue In Philadelphia Region Despite Donations Being Down Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The coronavirus pandemic is impacting organ transplants. Donations are down and some transplants have been put on hold, but the most serious cases are still happening.

Hospitals are limiting as many surgeries as possible, focusing on COVID-19 patients and keeping others safe from the virus.

In spite of the difficult odds, there were 126 organ transplants in and around Philadelphia in the month of March that came from 49 donors.

Elaine McDevitt danced in the hallway at Jefferson Hospital, just days after getting a heart transplant.

"It was just a miraculous experience," McDevitt said.

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She was thrilled, not because she got a life-saving new heart, but that it happened during a pandemic.

"As the COVID-19 situation got worse and worse, so did the precautions at the hospital," McDevitt said. "They were very, very cautious but didn't scare you at the same time. They were, 'Look, we need you to stay safe.'"

Richard Hasz, vice president of clinical services for the Gift of Life donor program, says donations and transplants have continued in the region with an intense new level of precaution, especially for the immunosuppressed patients.

All Gift of Life patients, families and donors are all tested for COVID-19. Organs are not being accepted from people who are positive.

Transplant teams are working hard to make sure the virus doesn't interfere with the process and patients who are fragile.

"It's like I knocked on the door of death and then came back," said Madu Rago, who had a kidney and liver transplant at Temple Hospital as the pandemic was spreading.

Both Rago and McDevitt are fortunate that the pandemic that's paralyzed so much didn't ruin their "gift of life."

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"I continue to cry every time I think about it," McDevitt said.

Many transplant patients and their families stay at the Gift of Life family home while in Philadelphia for medical intervention.

April is National Donate Life Month. Many buildings in the region will light up in blue and green to show support. There are still more than 5,000 people waiting for transplants in our area.

To learn more about the Gift of Life donor program and how you can help, click here.

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