What happens after you check ‘become an organ donor’ at the DMV?
However well-intentioned organ donors may be, the reality is that upwards of 54% of donated organs are discarded.
For the team behind OmniLife, it’s a logistics problem. “A big reason for organ discard is that not enough information is accessible to make a quick decision on a transplant,” co-founder Dalton Shaull told Hypepotamus. “Other times, the organ has been accepted [by a patient] but it doesn’t get to where it needs to go because of logistics mistakes or a communication breakdown.”
OmniLife started as a platform to streamline how organ donation stakeholders communicate. “We don’t determine who gets what organ. But we help an OPO (which has the donor) and the transplant center (which is representing the patient) share information more easily and communicate in a more documented and secure way. This helps make better, faster decisions and ultimately place more organs.”
Shaul met his co-founder Eric Pahl when they were both students at the University of Iowa. Shaull was the recipient of a nerve transplant after a near-fatal motorcycle accident, and Pahl, a Ph.D. student in health informatics, witnessed a family member navigate the liver transplant process.
Their research into the field made it apparent that a better communication tool was necessary to navigate the complex steps involved with matching and transporting a donated organ.
The Logistics of Organ Transplants
Organ transplants are indeed a medical miracle. The logistics behind them, however, can be a logistical nightmare.
After an individual who is an organ donor is pronounced brain dead and the next of kin agrees to go ahead with the donation, the clock starts ticking. One of the nation’s 57 local organ procurement organizations (OPOs) is tasked with obtaining a match-list for each organ and coordinating phone calls with potential matches.
This could mean working with transplant hospitals, government-contracted UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing), hospital staff, histocompatibility labs, tissue banks, blood banks, logistics providers, funeral homes, medical examiners, and additional research companies.
And if someone is trying to place several different organs, that process only multiples.
Once a match is found, flights have to be arranged for surgeons to pick up the organ and teams have to prepare for upcoming surgeries. And these stakeholders are fighting against time during the entire process — this is, after all, a life or death process.
As complicated as the process is, Shaull says that “today, the primary system that is used to coordinate all these efforts is iMessage.”
OmniLife sees their platform as a way to “reduce mistakes and reduce the number of redundant phone calls, text messages, or group chats.” The communication platform has built-in decision support, customizable checklists, and a process tracking component to make sure key stakeholders are kept in the loop throughout the process.
Shaull and Pahl got an NIH grant to research communication throughout the organ allocation process in 2018. They’ve also received investments and seed funding from several angel groups across the country.
Since then, they have facilitated over 1,000 successful transplants across the Midwest and East Coast. They are currently in 13 states with customers or research partners at 20 institutions.
One such customer is the Starzl Network, which includes Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
While OmniLife was founded in Iowa, the team is currently spread between Charlotte and Atlanta with offices in Louisville, Kentucky.
The startup has transitioned into a Certified Benefit Corporation and works to “engage and educate the public about organ donation and transplantation awareness,” added Shaull.
Earlier this year the team launched a crowdfunding campaign on wunderfund as a way to both drive social awareness around the process and also allow individuals who are not accredited angel investors to help solve the pain points throughout the organ donation process.
Shaull says that the startup’s current momentum will hopefully propel them into the tissue, cell, and eye donation market soon.
OmniLife’s Next Life
Shaull is also realistic about the future of the organ donation and matching industry. “Relying on living donors and deceased donors for sources of organs is always a losing game because demand is far outpacing supply of donated organs.”
He notes that the supply of viable organs has decreased with advances in medicine and as the American population has become more unhealthy (meaning that more well-meaning people cannot donate due to chronic disease, obesity, or other health-related problems).
OmniLife hopes to be at the forefront of the upcoming “Made To Order” tissue and organ creation process as lab-grown options become more ubiquitous in the future.
While Shaull knows that is a few years off, he thinks there are important conversations to be had now about the state of organ donation. “How do we ensure that if we make a selfless donation and the gift of organ donation, that there’s integrity in the system? How do you ensure that your organs are going to not end up in a trash bin but end up in the person and save their lives,” he added.