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Nonprofit testing drone transportation of organs, human tissue in Colorado, Wyoming

Donor Alliance drone
Posted at 9:42 PM, Nov 01, 2023

DENVER — A Denver nonprofit is hoping to make drone transportation of organs and human tissue a reality.

Nearly 1,500 people in Colorado and Wyoming are currently waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the Donor Alliance.

Erika White knows all too well the importance of organ donation. Her daughter, Emerson, received two transplants in her short life.

“She had two organ transplants. Her first was a liver, small bowel, pancreas just over the age of one. And the second one was a liver, small bowel, pancreas, and two kidneys 10 months later,” said White.

Emerson lived with those transplants for 13 years until she had some complications.

"We think that her transplant bowel perforated, and she went septic. She died very quickly,” said White.

White said she's supportive of any type of technology that will help the organ donation process. That's where Donor Alliance CEO Jennifer Prinz of Donor Alliance comes in.

“We had the opportunity to formally announce our partnership with 2THEDGE and our Matador Project that brings drone technology that's been proven and utilized in other areas to Colorado and Wyoming to help us improve and innovate in the space of moving specimens — and hopefully organs one day — throughout our two-state area,” said Prinz.

Ty Harmon, one of co-founders of Matador UAS Consortium, said they've been testing their drone capabilities in other states for a few years now, using blood and medical supplies. Now they're ready to try it out in Colorado and Wyoming.

Harmon said using drone transportation of specimens and organs could benefit Colorado’s hard-to-reach rural communities and save transport time.

"Especially in mountain and high terrain areas where you may have windy or dirt roads around and don't have pilot restrictions,” said Harmon.

"We're already doing the testing, utilizing the existing railroad system actually, being able to fly those drones over the railway systems,” said Prinz.

The goal is to make organ transplantation by drone a reality in years to come.

“If you're waiting on that organ transplant, every minute can count. And that's why I’m hoping maybe in the next five years, we could be able to fly an organ to a recipient in need,” said Prinz.

White said it's all about the gift of life, which gave her and her family 13 years with Emerson.

"Thirteen years we wouldn't have had without the gift of organ donation,” said White.

Harmon said we could likely see drones being used in Colorado to support health care sometime in 2024. However, he said it could take several more years before we see organs being transported around the country by drone.

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