Partner’s Death Prompts Man’s Crusade For Change In Federal Organ Donation Policy
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A local man is fighting for change after he was told he couldn’t donate his late partner’s tissue, as he wanted.
Dan Burda had been with his partner, Rohn, for eight years. Earlier this month, Rohn collapsed and died in his arms.
Burda asked us to honor Rohn’s family’s request, and not specifically identify him. But Burda does want us to tell the story about how he’s fighting for his late partner’s honor.
Rohn designated himself as an organ donor, but Burda found out Rohn wouldn’t be able to give his gift, in part, because he was gay.
“I feel very targeted and directed with this role,” said Burda. “I feel that my corneas and skin and tissue are no different than any others, and they would test everybody regardless, so why I’m any different or why Rohn was any different is unacceptable.”
Because Rohn died from a heart attack, his organs weren’t eligible for donation anyway. That leaves things like bone, skin and the corneas.
Susan Stuart, president and CEO of the Center for Organ Recovery and Education – also known as CORE, says organs from an otherwise healthy gay man are accepted no matter what because they’re considered “lifesaving.”
However, tissue isn’t because it’s considered to be only “life enhancing;” in other words, not worth a risk of possible infection to the recipient. That policy is mandated by the Food and Drug Administration.
“If a male has had sex with another male within the last five years that would be a contra-indication for us to be able to carry out the tissue recovery,” said Stuart.
CORE’s CEO says she believes this issue is about safety for the transplant recipient, not about violating anyone’s human rights.
“It’s not just about homosexuals, it’s about many other medical-social behaviors,” Stuart said.
Stuart says while blood from any potential donor is tested for HIV, and Hepatitis C and B, nothing is full proof; and that even if the blood test comes back negative, there could still be a chance the tissue is infected.
“There is just this window of time of having the disease before your blood will test positive for it,” she says.
That is why CORE professionals ask questions of the organ donor’s family within hours of their death.
“After 20 minutes of questioning – blood type, health history, the last question being was he ever engaged in homosexual activity,” said Burda.
Adding insult to injury, Burda and Rohn had held a fundraiser for CORE in December at their North Hills hair salon, raising close to $8,000 for an organization that ultimately couldn’t legally accept tissue from a 48-year-old man.
“It truly has me speechless,” said Burda.
Burda is now fighting for the FDA to change what he calls an outdated policy.
Stuart says she’s aware of his petition, but doesn’t believe the FDA will change its standing.
“Rohn and I worked extremely well on earth, and I feel we’re working even better spiritually,” Burda said. “He’s with me, I feel that. His strength is pushing me forward to do this. He’s my angel guiding me through this journey and I’m going to do it for him.”