Organ donations, transplants increase on days of largest motorcycle rallies, study shows: Findings should serve as alarm to increase safety, prepare for higher demand for trauma care and transplant services

The number of organ donations and organ transplants goes up markedly during large motorcycle rallies, according to a newly published analysis led by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The research, which appears Nov. 28 in JAMA Internal Medicine, shows that in the regions where the seven largest motorcycle rallies were held throughout the United States between 2005 and 2021, there were 21 percent more organ donors per day, on average, and 26 percent more transplant recipients per day, on average, during these events, compared with days just before and after the rallies.

Large-scale motorcycle rallies attract hundreds of thousands of attendees, and previous studies have shown that these events are accompanied by increases in traumatic injuries and deaths from motor-vehicle crashes.

For the new study, the researchers wanted to know whether these events corresponded to increases in organ donation and transplantation in the regions where they were held.

The researchers posed several questions, including whether organ donations rose along with trauma-related fatalities. They did. Also, was there a difference in the quality of organs donated due to clinical or demographic differences in donors during rallies. There wasn’t.

“The spikes in organ donations and transplantations that we found in our analysis are disturbing, even if not entirely surprising, because they signal a systemic failure to avoid preventable deaths, which is a tragedy,” said study first author David Cron, HMS clinical fellow in surgery at Mass General. “There is a clear need for better safety protocols around such events.”

“At the same time, it is important for transplant communities in places where these events are held to be aware of the potential for increased organ donors during those periods. Organ donation is often called the gift of life, and we should make sure that we do not squander it and can turn any of these tragic deaths into a chance to potentially save other lives,” added Cron, who is also a research fellow at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he is part of a group interested in understanding how policy decisions and other factors, both inside and outside of the health care system, affect efforts to improve the supply of organs for transplantation.

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