On the night of April 19, 2019, Trina Glispy waited for an organ transplant that would save her life. In her eighth year of dialysis for kidney failure, the 44-year-old nursing assistant understood the odds were shrinking.
Then, on that night, a match was made. The organ had to get from the Living Legacy Foundation to the University of Maryland Medical Center – a short 4.7-mile trip by car that could take as much as 20 minutes. Certainly not a time that would jeopardize the organ.
But a University of Maryland team had been looking for an opportunity and presented a plan to Glispy: Could the organ be transported via drone?
The nursing assistant agreed to take part in this historic event that was two years in the making, and on that night, Glispy became the first recipient of an organ transplant that arrived via drone.
For their efforts, the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) team for the university has received the Golden Hour Award from the Helicopter Association International.
The University of Maryland UAS test site team was led by director Matt Scassero and University of Maryland Medical Center’s Dr. Joseph Scalea. The award recognizes the efforts of an individual, group or organization that, through a particular activity or contributions over time, has advanced the use of helicopters or UAS aircraft in the vital mission of air medical transport.
The team’s drone flying Glispy’s new kidney traveled 2.8 miles at 300 feet, covering the distance in 9.52 minutes.
The notion of transporting organs via drone was born earlier in 2019 when Scalea approached Scassero with the idea. Scassero’s team built the drone from scratch with multiple redundancies, including a parachute system that would deploy automatically to protect an organ in transport should a malfunction occur.
The drone also included an organ-monitoring system that monitored temperature, pressure and vibrations that could affect the viability of the organ. All the data was transmitted to the cloud but also recorded on an SD memory card for review by the medical staff.
“Nothing like this had ever been developed before,” Scassero said in a press release announcing the award. “Currently, an organ is tested after harvest and then tested again after arrival to ensure it is still viable. With our monitoring system, we discovered the kidney we flew remained well within the parameters, I’d even say better than it would have in a car or helicopter. The hope is one day this monitoring technology will replace the need for that second biopsy.”