Posted on April 16, 2018
April is National Donate Life Month
“The act of registering your decision to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor takes less than a minute. Your one action can serve as a lifesaving prism, transforming your decision into life and healing for more than 75 people, their families and their communities,” says David Fleming, President and CEO of Donate Life America.
Fleming’s organization reports that 56% of U.S. adults have registered their decision to be a donor at the time of their death. Yet the number of people in need of transplants continues to outpace the number of organs donated. Currently, approximately 116,000 people are waiting for a transplant and a second chance at life. On average, 22 people die each day because the organ they need is not donated in time—that’s almost one person dying every hour.
Determining Organ Recipients
Many factors used to match organs with patients in need are the same for all organs:
The first step: Before an organ is allocated, all transplant candidates on the waiting list that are incompatible with the donor because of blood type, height, weight, and other medical factors are automatically screened from any potential matches. Then, the United Network for Organ Sharing’s (UNOS) computer system determines the order the other candidates will receive offers.
Geography plays a part: Fifty-eight local donor service areas and 11 UNOS regions are used for U.S. organ allocation. Hearts and lungs have less time to be transplanted, so UNOS uses a radius from the donor hospital instead of regions when allocating those organs.
The right-sized organ: Proper organ size is critical to a successful transplant, which means that children often respond better to child-sized organs. Although pediatric candidates have their own unique scoring system, children essentially are first in line for other children’s organs.
Blood type and other medical factors weigh into the allocation of every donated organ, but each organ type has its own individual distribution policy, which reflect factors that are unique to each organ type:
Kidney: Factors include waiting time; donor/recipient immune system compatibility; prior living donor; distance from donor hospital; survival benefit; and pediatric status.
Lung: Factors include survival benefit; medical urgency; waiting time; distance from donor hospital; and pediatric status.
Liver and heart: Factors include medical urgency; distance from donor hospital; and pediatric status.
How Does Organ Matching Work?
When a transplant hospital accepts someone as a transplant candidate, it enters medical data (blood type, medical urgency, and the location of the transplant hospital) about that candidate into the UNOS computerized network. When an organ procurement organization gets consent for an organ donor, it will offer the same information to UNOS.
Using the combination of donor and candidate information, the computer system generates a “match run,” a rank-order list of candidates to be offered each organ. This match is unique to each donor and each organ. The candidates who will appear highest in the ranking are those who are in most urgent need of the transplant, and/or those most likely to have the best chance of survival if transplanted.
The transplant process must happen quickly: Donated organs require special methods of preservation to keep them viable between the time of procurement and transplantation. Common maximum organ preservation times include:
- Kidney, 24 to 36 hours;
- Pancreas, 12 to 18 hours;
- Liver, 8 to 12 hours; and
- Heart/lung, 4 to 6 hours.
Remember: Just one donor can save the lives of up to eight people!
Become an Organ Donor
Signing up on your state registry means that someday you could save lives as a donor—by leaving behind the gift of life. When you register, you may choose what organs and tissues you want to donate and you can update your status at any time.
You can sign up online or in-person at your local motor vehicle department. Registering online takes just a few minutes and you can do that here. All you need is some identification information and your driver’s license or photo ID number. Be sure to let your family know you’ve registered so they may support your wishes.
If you have questions about any healthcare issue, contact the primary care providers at Coastal Carolina Health Care by calling (252) 633-4111 or visiting www.cchchealthcare.com.
(Sources: U.S. Government Information on Organ Donation and Transplantation; Health Resources & Services Administration; Donate Life America; United Network for Organ Sharing; and Washington Regional Transplant Community.)