Skin Shortage

April, 2013
The fire and explosion in West exacerbated a shortage of tissue available for skin grafting, an important component of treatment for severe burns. In North Texas, in fact, there is none. The tissue bank that serves Tarrant and eight other North Texas counties was depleted of skin as of Tuesday.

Josiah Anaya, who represents Community Tissue Services on the Donor Council at JPS Health Network, told council members that the disaster in West, the Boston Marathon bombings, and the ongoing needs of the military have strained skin inventories across the country. Community Tissue Services, known in Texas as CTS-Texas, also provides tissue — tendons, bones and joints, skin and others — to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Houston.

Ten donors are required to provide enough skin for just one severely burned adult.  JPS, typically the top provider of donated organs in Fort Worth, had four patients whose families consented to tissue donation during March — not enough, in other words, to meet the needs of a single typical burn patient.

Surgeons have a variety of alternatives, which include an array of biosynthetic and synthetic  dressings. But in most cases, human skin grafting would be the preferred option. Skin grafting tends to shorten healing time produce less scarring. “The best outcomes are associated with human skin,” Anaya said.

JPS is well-known for its efforts to promote organ and tissue donation, and is diligent about ensuring that family members of fatally injured patients are aware of the possibilities. But not everyone is willing to donate skin, Anaya said. Like the eyes, skin is a body part that sometimes gives family members pause — or perhaps they are not aware of the great need, and the potential benefits for burn patients.

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