LifeNet Health: From Death, Hope.

You are 40-something and just completed an Ironman. Good for you. Bad for you, you just damaged your ACL and your surgeon recommends reconstructive surgery. Thanks to LifeNet Health, a leading provider of organ and tissue transplantation located in Virginia Beach, VA, your surgeon can have the necessary tissues available for surgery so you can move on with your life.  With more than 6000 lives saved and 1.8 million healed, LifeNet Health is literally as their mission statement says “saving lives, restoring health.” This article describes LifeNet Helath’s operations. Featured are also interviews with Dick Trowbridge, Vice President of Production and Logistics; Michael Poole, Director of Tissue Operations; and Nancy D’Amico, Supply Chain Manager. This new section of Operations Buzz called “Field Notes” will feature detailed descriptions of business operations from a variety of industries.

From death, hope.

LifeNet Health’s supply chain starts with death and a final gift that offers hope. In partnership with a network of Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs), grieving families are contacted about the prospect of donating the organs and tissues of their loved ones. If appropriate, the donor is screened and the organs and tissues are recovered for transplantation. LifeNet Health’s Donor Family Services department works closely with the donor families by providing grief literature and workshops, support and companionship strategies, and donation information and letters of thanks.  They also help donor family members remember their loved ones in creative ways to give solace and meaning in time to a tragic death.

Organs that can be donated include the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and intestines. Organs are used to extend lives by replacing diseased organs with healthy ones. The organ transplant supply chain is facilitated by the United Organ Sharing Network (UNOS) –LifeNet Health as an OPO recovers the organs from the donors and facilitates the transport to the recipients.

LifeNet Health’s bio-implant division manages tissue-processing activities. A partial list of tissues that can be donated include skin, fascia (fibrous tissue around the muscle), bone, corneas, heart valves, and veins. Skin grafts are used as dressing for burn victims. Fascia is used to repair muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Bone, tendons and ligaments can be used in reconstructive surgeries; corneas are transplanted to give sight; and heart valves and veins are used in cardiovascular surgery. When the recovered tissues make their way to the bio-implants division, they are stored at appropriate temperatures in freezer banks for further processing.

The donated tissues are crafted into an “Allograft” – another name for processed human tissue transplanted into another person. LifeNet Health focuses on several key areas when processing donated tissues. First, safety is a key issue – donors are screened, and tissues are sterilized according to rigorous, patented processes to render the tissue free of any potential contaminants. Second, innovation is a key driver in improving the quality of life of its recipient patients -- proprietary and patented cleaning, preservation, and composite allograft technologies are continually worked on to advance bio-implant’s safety and efficacy. Third, a very high level of quality of the implants is maintained. Tissues from different donors are always kept separate from each other, and allografts are always linked back to the original donor.

Full Circle

Back to your ACL. Your surgeon most likely orders a “FlexiGRAFT” from LifeNet Health. These are “densely striated” and extremely strong tendons that will help flex your foot. When your surgeon (or the hospital) calls into the LifeNet Health’s call center, the order is transferred to the distribution warehouse from where it is shipped in specialized temperature controlled containers to your surgeon.

The warehouse holds over 800 SKUs of both musculoskeletal and cardiovascular tissues, some at room temperature, others, like your tendon in ultralow temperature freezers. Some items like heart valves are extremely temperature sensitive and are stored in liquid nitrogen-cooled tanks.

In 2008, more than 6000 people died waiting for organ transplants. Hundreds and thousands of others have been able to lead a normal life thanks to tissue donation. So pull out your driver’s license and see if there is a red heart on it. If not, talk to your family about being an organ donor. Give the “Gift of Life.”

Questions for Supply Chain Leaders at LifeNet Health

Dick Trowbridge, Vice President of Production and Logistics; Michael Poole, Director of Tissue Operations; and Nancy D’Amico, Supply Chain Manager answer questions regarding LifeNet Health’s supply chain:

Q: Organ and tissue donation is still plagued by myths. How do you overcome these?

LifeNet Health has an education team in Virginia that coordinates events at health fairs, workplaces and high schools.  The staff works with more than 300 volunteers across the state to address the myths of organ and tissue donation at events.

Q: What are the challenges of talking to grieving families about organ donation?

A: Approaching bereaved families in the midst of the acute symptoms of grief makes such an important conversation a challenge.  While grief is unique to each person, many family members experience confusion and disorganization. As a result, clearly communicating the clinical processes of donation sometimes proves difficult.  LifeNet Health Family Support Coordinators approach families for consent and are trained to conduct this discussion in the most professional and effective manner possible.

More and more people are increasingly supporting donation by designating themselves as donors in advance through the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia donor registry.  Conversations with families in these situations are much easier.  Most family members readily honor their loved one’s wish, knowing it was their desire to help others through donation.

Q: How do you reach out to doctors and hospitals about your products?

A: LifeNet Health’s marketing department attends conferences around the country and meets with doctors one-on-one to talk about the advantages that LifeNet Health bio-medical implants provide.

Q: How important is innovation to LifeNet Health? Can you give us some examples of innovation that have significantly improved the quality of life of recipients?

A: Innovation is one of LifeNet Health’s key focus areas for all employees.   LifeNet Health has had numerous innovations that directly improve patient quality of life.  Two very recent examples are MatraCELL and Preservon. Matracell is a patented and validated process that safely removes donor cells and DNA without sacrificing the biomechanical strength of the allograft bio-implant The Matracell process requires three steps: - Decellularization. Matracell utilizes an anionic, non-denaturing detergent, to remove donor cells from the allograft bio-implant. Rinsing to remove decellularization reagent residuals and donor cell remnants from the allograft bio-implant, and Preservation with LifeNet Health’s proprietary technology.  The allograft bio-implant is then cryopreserved or frozen and stored at -80ºC.

Preservon is a proprietary, glycerol-based preservation solution that allows allograft bio-implants to be stored in a fully hydrated state at ambient temperature. This eliminates the need to freeze or freeze-dry allograft bio-implants, doing away with lengthy thawing and rehydration times in the Operating Room.   More about these and other innovation can be found at

Q: Your supply and your demand must both be very unpredictable. What strategies do you use to manage and match supply to demand?

A: Actually demand is more predictable than you might think.  There is such a large population of patients with health issues who can be helped using bio-implants.  For over 25 years LifeNet Health has been developing new bio-implant products that restore health for a variety of medical procedures, including orthopedic, spine, cardiac, sports medicine, and dental.   With distribution of over 300,000 bio-implant grafts annually, there is a demand history database that allows us to forecast future requirements.   The broad range of bio-implants produced to meet these needs allows us to maximize the precious gift of donor tissue, sometimes attaining over 200 bio-implants from a single donor’s tissue.  There is also historical data regarding donors that allows us to forecast how many donors we would expect month to month.

Q: How do you plan “production”?  By extension, how do you manage the finished goods inventory?

A: Again, historical bio-implant usage serves as the basis for production planning, along with newly developed bio-implant products that are introduced frequently.  Much like other distribution-oriented businesses, we use standard commercial inventory and distribution management systems and analysis tools.  During 2010 we will implement an Enterprise Resource Planning system to further improve our efficiency and help us better manage our inventories and production plans.

Q: What technologies do you use to execute the various activities in your supply chain?

A: LifeNet Health has a modern distribution center that houses a vertical lift storage and retrieval system for high volume, fast moving bio-implants in a small floor space footprint.  Other storage includes freezers that maintain -80C and liquid nitrogen freezers that maintain cardiac and vascular grafts at -180C.   Specialized validated shipping containers maintain these low temperatures throughout the shipment process until the bio-implants reach the hospital for implant, whether that surgery destination is just across Hampton Roads, in California, or in Asia or Europe.

About LifeNet Health's Bioimplant Division

LifeNet Health Bio-Implants Division is a leader in the engineering and processing of dental, cardiovascular, spinal and orthopedic bio-implants and distributes more than 200,000 bio-implants every year to restore health to patients around the world. Watch a virtual tour of their facility.