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Home > Patients & Families > Become an Organ Donor > More Information

More About Organ Donation

Thousands of lives depend on receiving organs and tissues for transplant, but there is a severe and chronic shortage of donor organs. Every year, more than 1,500 people die waiting for a donated liver to become available.

How many people are waiting for liver transplants?

Currently, about 17,000 adults and children have been medically approved for liver transplants and are waiting for donated livers to become available. The waiting list grows every year.

When can donor organs be retrieved?

Only once an individual is declared “brain dead” can organs be retrieved to save the lives of others. Brain dead means the brain has ceased to function with absolutely no hope of recovery. The spark of life is gone, and the body and its organs can function only if supported by artificial means. A brain tumor, severe trauma to the brain, or drowning can cause a person to become brain dead. Standards for determining whether a person is brain dead are strict and require a neurospecialist to confirm the diagnosis of the attending physician.

What happens when an organ becomes available?

Organ and tissue retrieval is accomplished through regional organ banks, which may be contacted through your local hospital. Special surgical teams are mobilized. Tissue typing labs begin cross-matching, and a search is made for the best possible recipient. The organs are retrieved as soon as possible, packed in preservation solution and ice, and transported with maximum speed to their destination. The miracle is about to happen.

How successful are organ and tissue transplants?

Organ transplants are well-accepted therapies performed routinely at specialized transplant centers and saving thousands of lives each year. 6000 liver transplants are performed annually in the U.S., and the number continues to rise. Liver transplant patients have an approximately 86% one-year and 78% three-year survival rate, comparable to the current survival rate for heart transplant patients.

Who coordinates organ sharing around the country?

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is a private, nonprofit membership organization that coordinates the nation’s transplant system under federal contract. The UNOS Organ Center is open 24 hour a day, every day of the year, and can respond any time a donor organ becomes available anywhere in the country. The Organ Center provides a list of potential recipients based on match and need, also taking into account medical urgency, genetic compatibility, and logistics. The goal of the Organ Center is to increase sharing, lower transplantation costs, and provide vital data.

Every transplant center in the United States is also involved with the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, an organization that evaluates the nation’s transplant system on a regular basis through data analysis.

Page updated: October 29th, 2013