THE good news is that 2018 marked the sixth consecutive record-breaking year for organ transplants: more than 36,500 patients nationwide received life-saving organ transplants from 10,700 deceased and 6,900 living donors.
The bad news is that even at record transplantation levels, the demand for organs greatly exceeds the available supply, with the waiting list skyrocketing from less than 30,000 in 1992 to 120,000 today. An average of 22 people on the organ transplant waiting list die every day because the organ they need is not donated in time.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network reports that 2,087 Virginians are currently waiting for a kidney, 174 for a heart, 169 for a liver, 43 for a kidney/pancreas, 30 for a pancreas, and 23 for a lung.
But a recent study found that Virginia has the 15th longest wait times for organ transplants in the U.S., with 12.6 percent of those in need having to wait five years or longer for a suitable organ.
Kidneys, hearts and livers are in the most demand, while 26 percent of patients in need of intestinal transplants generally have to wait more than five years—if they make it that long.
Sixty percent of Virginians are already registered organ donors, according to Donate Life Virginia, which manages the Virginia Donor Registry. The personal (and revocable) decision to become an organ donor is made easier by the Department of Motor Vehicles, which allows residents of the commonwealth to make their wishes known on their driver’s license, learner’s permit or photo ID.
By law, the physicians who work to save an organ donor’s life following a serious accident or medical event are not involved with organ transplants and do not have access to the Donor Registry. Organs cannot be harvested for transplantation until a doctor who is not involved with the procedure declares the potential donor brain dead with no chance of recovery.
“The first and foremost job of healthcare professionals at any hospital is to do everything they can to try and save your life,” the website points out. “It is only after all of these efforts have been exhausted and death has been declared that organ, tissue and eye donation would even be considered.”
In addition, living donors can offer kidneys and parts of their livers to those whose own organs have ceased to function. And since sharing parts of one’s own body with someone in desperate need is one of the most intimate acts of charity and compassion imaginable, organ donation is approved by all the major religions.
With the increasing medical success of organ transplantation, many Virginians know—or know of—somebody who is alive today thanks to the generosity of an unknown organ donor whose gift of life will never be topped, or forgotten.