Understanding the Organ Transplant Waiting List
About 6,300 people in the region served by A Gift of Life Donor Program await life-saving organ transplants. All patients are included on a single national list. However, all will rely on the efforts of A Gift of Life Donor Program and most will benefit from local donors for a second chance at life and renewed health.
The Transplant List
Nationally, there are more than 123,000 people waiting for much-needed organs. As these patients and their families hold out hope for their second chance at life, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages the list of those individuals across the country, ensuring that the available gifts go to those who are best matched.
This system developed out of the National Organ Transplant Act in 1984, which established the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN), a national organ sharing system to guarantee, among other things, fairness in the allocation of organs for transplant. UNOS maintains a database of all patients waiting for various organ transplants.
In the transplant centers, patients are evaluated by transplant physicians to determine if and when they should be placed on the waiting list. The rules that dictate the waiting list vary by organ. General criteria – a patient’s medical urgency, blood, tissue and size match with the donor, time on the waiting list and proximity to the donor – guide the distribution of organs. Special allowances are made for children under certain circumstances. Factors such as a patient’s income, celebrity status, and race or ethnic background play no role in determining allocation of organs.
Local patients also get special attention, when an organ donation happens in their community. The country is divided into 11 geographic regions, each served by an organ procurement organization (OPO) like Gift of Life Donor Program. With the exception of perfectly-matched kidneys and the most urgent liver patients, first priority goes to patients at transplant hospitals located in the region served by the OPO. Next in priority are patients in areas served by nearby OPOs. Finally, only if no patients in these communities can use the organ, it is offered to patients elsewhere in the U.S. The use of a local donor has several medical benefits to the potential recipient: The less time that elapses during the transplant process, the more chance of success the transplant has. It has also been shown that people are more likely to consent to donation if they know that someone in their own community could benefit.
At the center of this is the simple fact that organ transplantation is built upon altruism and public trust. Gift of Life works hard to ensure that this trust is maintained, through its commitment both to the donor family as well as to those on the waiting list.
Average Median Wait Time to Transplant
Kidney – 5 years
Liver – 11 months
Heart – 4 months
Lung – 4 months
Kidney / Pancreas – 1.5 years
Pancreas – 2 years
The Organ Donor Program
In 1974, A Gift of Life began as the Greater Delaware Valley Society of Transplant Surgeons with three employees coordinating just a handful of kidney transplants, in eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
Today, it remains the nation’s most active and well-respected organ procurement organization (OPO), with more than 36,000 organ transplants and hundreds of thousands of tissue transplants coordinated. In addition to its regional clinical work, Gift of Life serves as a national and international expert, organizing training for transplant and donation professionals through the A Gift of Life Institute.