UW Hospital performs record organ transplants, despite COVID-19

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin Hospital performed a record 548 organ transplants last year, including 315 kidney transplants, even though the COVID-19 pandemic forced a temporary closure of part of its transplant program.

Mike Anderson, executive director of UW Organ and Tissue Donation, said an increase in deceased donors was a large factor. UW Hospital, one of the nation’s largest transplant centers, had 173 deceased donors this year, up from the previous record of 150 set in 2016.

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More people died from drug overdoses, and there was also an uptick in heart attacks, strokes and other events that can cause brain death — likely due to people with chronic diseases who put off medical care because of the pandemic, he said.

“It’s not something we expected,” Anderson told the Wisconsin State Journal. People who die from COVID-19 cannot be organ donors.

The number of transplants surpassed UW Hospital’s previous record of 541 in 2005; the hospital’s previous record for kidney transplants was 313, set in 2016.

The number of living donors went down in 2020. Part of that program was closed in the spring and again in November and December as coronavirus hospitalizations surged, said Dr. Dixon Kaufman, chairman of UW Health’s transplant division. The hospital also saw a sharp drop in non-directed donors — people who give a kidney to a stranger without having a loved one or friend who needs one in return.

Kaufman said four transplant recipients contracted COVID-19, including two who apparently were infected at home after being discharged, and two who apparently got it during long hospital stays. All four are now fine, and the cases led to more frequent testing of patients and staff, he said.

The pandemic created other challenges: Doctors and others who fly in small airplanes to retrieve organs statewide had to be quickly outfitted with protective equipment, said Dr. Nikole Neidlinger, associate medical director of UW Organ and Tissue Donation.

Sensitive conservations to confirm consent for organ donation also had to be done with loved ones via Zoom or with medical staff wearing masks and face shields.

“Neither are ideal,” she said. “But our team was able to overcome it, and the families in Wisconsin are really generous.”

Report: State’s tax burden drops below national average

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s sate and local tax burden dropped below the national average and taxes as a share of income in 2020 reached its lowest level in at least half a century, a report released Tuesday from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum showed.

State and local taxes as a share of income was 10.2% in 2020, its lowest point since at least 1970, the report said. That is the farthest back records go at the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

While overall taxes increased by 2.3% in the past fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2020, total personal income went up by 3.4% in calendar year 2019, the most recent data available, the report said. Personal income continued to rise in the second half of the year, despite the pandemic, the report said.

The 10.2% share of taxes as a percentage of income was down from 10.3% in 2019. That continues a downward trend since 1994 when it was 13.1%, the Wisconsin Policy Forum report said.

Wisconsin ranked 23rd in state and local tax burden, and was below the national average, based on 2018 U.S. Census data, the most current year available. The state ranked 17th highest in tax burden the year before.

Wisconsin had ranked in the top 10 of states nationally during the 1990s and 2000s.

Guard withdraws from Kenosha after charging decision

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin National Guard has pulled troops out of a southeastern Wisconsin city after protests over a decision not to charge a White police officer with shooting a Black man in the back didn’t materialize.

Guard spokesman Joe Trovato said Monday that about 500 troops have withdrawn from Kenosha after spending a week there in anticipation of demonstrations.

Officer Rusten Sheskey’s decision to shoot Jacob Blake in the back during a domestic dispute in August sparked chaotic protests in Kenosha that went on for several nights. Prosecutors have charged Illinois teen Kyle Rittenhouse with shooting two people to death and wounding a third during one of the protests.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Jan. 5 that he wasn’t going to charge Sheskey in the shooting. Authorities braced for another round of protests, declaring a curfew and blocking off roads. Gov. Tony Evers activated the National Guard to assist local police.

But demonstrations of the magnitude the city saw in August never happened and the troops withdrew after an uneventful weekend, Trovato said.

Blake supporters marched in the city on Monday afternoon demanding officials fire Sheskey. The event was peaceful.