As of October 2011, a reported 112,178 patients in the U.S. were awaiting organ donations and every 11 minutes another individual is added to the waiting list. Though an average of 75 people per day receive organ transplants daily and more than 86 million people in the U.S. are registered as donors, a critical shortage of organs remains. Increasing information about the importance of donation could help to encourage new donors and save lives.
Organs and tissues including heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and corneas can all be donated and transplanted. According to experts, the organs and tissue from a single donor could help as many as 50 recipients. There are no age restrictions for donors, and depending on the type of donation, organs may come from a deceased or living donor. Current data indicates that as of October 7, 2011 there had been 113,693 living donors and 143,662 deceased donors since the tracking of organ donation was initiated.
Any individual is eligible to register as an organ donor, though the process for registering varies by state. If an individual who was not a registered donor dies due to massive trauma to the brain or is declared brain dead and cannot be revived, the individual’s family members must authorize the donation of the individual’s organs. Only organs with blood and oxygen flowing through them at the time of donation are viable for transplant, and each must be transplanted within hours to help prevent rejection by the recipient. When organs become available, they must tissue and blood typed to identify the appropriate individual on the transplant waiting list who is a match, as well as ensuring that they are the appropriate size for the recipient.
The recovery of organs for transplant is performed by a team of surgeons, nurses, and the transplant coordinator in the operating room where the donor received care. Just prior to removal, each organ is flushed free of blood and then placed in a sterile container for transportation to the recipient’s transplant center. Organs must be transplanted quickly – hearts and lungs within four hours, livers within 12-18, and kidneys within 24-48 hours of removal from the donor.
The risks associated with receiving an organ transplant are outweighed by the benefits as individuals receiving transplants are those who would not be able to survive without them. Though all organ recipients must take anti-rejection drugs following transplant, reports indicate that 15 percent still suffer some rejection in the first year. In addition, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that though the risk of disease transmission from donated organs is rather small, between 2007 and 2010 more than 200 cases of suspected transmission were investigated. To increase the safety of organ transplants, the CDC has drafted new guidelines for advanced organ testing which would screen for hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.
In 2010, 28,665 organ transplants were performed, but reports indicate that as many as 6,000 Americans die each year while waiting for a transplant. By encouraging individuals to consider registering as donors, it may be possible to save thousands of lives each year.