More than 107,000 Americans are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant.
Since science has not perfected artificial organs, these patients depend on brave individuals and families who are willing to donate in the event of a death.
Unfortunately, we still do not have enough lifesaving organs in order to prevent over 7,000 deaths a year.
The nation’s 57 Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) have made strides in reducing the number of people on waiting lists to around 107,000 from 113,000 in 2012.
While this reduction may not seem like much, it does not account for the 39,035 total transplants that were reported by the United Network for Organ Sharing in 2020 – and over 750,000 transplants since 1988.
Our transplant centers and OPOs have worked hard to expand access so that a single deceased donor can directly impact the lives of up to eight people through organ donation and many more through tissue and corneal donations.
The Association of Organ Procurement Organizations announced in March that the industry was addressing the shortfall by making plans to reach a goal of 50,000 transplants a year by 2026.
Good work is being done, but is it enough?
Part of the problem is that criteria for being listed as a possible candidate for organ transplantation is constantly expanding based on our medical advances.
Patients who would not have qualitied a decade ago are prime candidates today. Therefore, as the industry sees more and more donations, they are also seeing more patients needing an organ.
The gap has ebbed and flowed for a decade due to technological advances.
For example, in 2012 a new name was added to a waiting list every 14 minutes. Now, it is every nine minutes.
Nine years ago, we saw 18 deaths a day among patients on organ transplant lists. Now, according to the American Transplant Foundation, we are seeing 20.
So, how do we bridge the gap? This dilemma has been an issue of legislative debate for the past several years.
Things came to a head with a 2019 executive order by then President Donald Trump pushing for an increased number of kidney transplants each year.
In November 2020, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, with bipartisan support, released new rules for the recertification of OPOs. Receiving mixed reviews in the organ donation community, the rules are intended to make OPOs more efficient and reduce the size of the waiting lists.
As the new recertification rules for OPOs went into effect on March 30, 2021, they will not have a direct impact on those currently waiting for help. The longer-term impacts of this legislation remain to be seen.
The situation may become more challenging due to COVID-19 since the virus attacks the heart, lungs and liver with a vengeance. In critical COVID-19 cases, the walls and lining of the air sacs within the lungs are damaged. Similar problems arise in the heart and liver.
While these impacts occur in less than 5% of those infected with the virus, it has experts concerned about the possible need for additional organ transplants over the next few years.
Whatever the results of the new OPO rules, there is one solution that would have an immediate impact: increase the number of organ donors.
According to Donate Life America, 95% of Americans are in favor of organ donation but only 58% have taken the necessary steps to register as an organ donor.
Granted, these numbers are up from 2012 when 90% were in favor but just around one-third had actually registered. This rise is the result of UNOS, Donate Life America and OPOs promoting each state’s organ donation registry over the past decade.
The registration process is easy because most state departments of motor vehicles allow for the possibility of registering while renewing your driver’s license.
Donatelife.net provides a link where visitors can register to be a donor. This database is accessible by all 57 OPOs who in the event of your death are able to confirm your wishes.
Despite the ease of registration, the gap remains. This is one reason why the month of April has been set aside as National Donate Life Month since 2003.
Beliefs can be powerful things that can change lives, but not if they are never acted upon.
So, I implore anyone reading this article to take some time and not only review your status as a potential organ donor but also to have a conversation with your loved one about what you would or would not want in the event of your death.
This gift of life can potentially help remove eight people from an organ waiting list.