Unsettling organ donation statistics reveal that more than a million people worldwide need a transplant in the hope of leading a normal life, but only 10% receive it.
These people expect a second chance at life; they want the freedom to travel, meet friends, and have fun, but they can achieve this only by undergoing an organ transplant.
As this could happen to any of us, it’s essential to understand, promote, and support organ donation.
In this article, we present some of the essential facts and statistics regarding organ donation and transplantation.
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Statistics on Organ Donation at a Glance
- 1 donor can save up to 8 lives.
- Living donors account for almost 50% of all kidney transplants.
- Approximately 95% of Americans support organ donation.
- 3 in 1000 registered people become post-mortem organ donors.
- Males under 50 accounted for 65% of all deceased donors in 2018.
- In 2018, there were around 80 organ transplants in the US every day.
- There are about 6,000 living donations in the US annually.
- More than 123,000 Americans are on the national transplant waiting list.
- 1 person is included in the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.
- Between 18–22 people die while waiting for an organ donation in the US every day.
General Organ Transplant Facts
1. Transplantation is a treatment procedure used to replace disease-affected and non-functioning cells, tissues, or organs.
Transplantation is a procedure in which cells, tissues, parts of organs, or whole organs are taken from one body (donor) and placed into another body (recipient) or elsewhere in the same body. Transplantation consists of four stages — the provision of biological material, surgery, post-operative treatment, and patient follow-up.
One of the essential transplant facts is that this can be a life-saving treatment in the cases of heart, pulmonary, renal, and liver failure. In non-life-threatening situations, an organ replacement can significantly improve the quality of life of patients.
2. There are two types of transplantation — organ and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
Two types of transplantation exist — organ and bone marrow transplantation. During the intervention of organ transplantation, the injured organs of the recipient are replaced with healthy organs from a living or dead donor. Organs suitable for a transplant include the heart, liver, lungs, kidney, pancreas, small intestine, and tissues, including skin, bones, cartilage, tendons, blood vessels, corneas, etc.
Facts about organ donation reveal that tissue transplantation serves to recover the patient from trauma, serious injuries, burns, plastic surgery, etc. Conversely, bone marrow transplantation is a medical procedure used for the treatment of severe hematological diseases. Furthermore, in vitro fertilization of a donor egg is an example of a cell transplant. Tissue and cell donors can be both alive or deceased.
3. Organ donation depends on the generosity of the deceased and their loved ones.
Organ donation is a gratuitous act of donating the organs of a deceased or a healthy person to be used in transplants. The latest transplant stats show that the number of deceased donors exceeds the number of living donors. It’s important to know that a healthy person can donate a portion of the liver, bone marrow, and only one kidney.
4. 1 donor can save up to 8 lives.
There are eight organs that can be transplanted. They include the heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, two kidneys, and lungs. Tissues that can be translated include corneas, tendons, ligaments, bones, skin, veins, heart valves, etc.
5. “Domino” transplantation helps expand the organ donation pool. Here are some facts and statistics on this procedure.
(National Kidney Registry)
Chain 124 is a kidney transplant chain in which complete strangers donate one of their kidneys to people in need expecting nothing in return. In a domino-like fashion, 30 people received new organs across the US in 2011. However, since these “domino” chains are built on trust, they depend on the good will and trustworthiness of the participants.
6. The life of every transplanted organ is limited.
When it comes to organ transplant rejection, statistics are somewhat grim. While organ transplantation prolongs the life of the recipient, the donated organs have a limited lifespan. Survival rates of different organs showed that a big proportion of patients need a second transplant. Nevertheless, in the past 25 years, transplantation saved more than 2 million life-years, according to a report by United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). For example, kidney transplants saved 1,272,969 life-years, while liver transplants saved 465,296 life-years.
Organ donation facts and myths
Donors are screened for common infections and diseases before transplantation. However, it’s a known fact that their organs can cause viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. The most common infections that go undetected during screening include hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
A liver transplant cannot cure hepatitis C or autoimmune hepatitis. It’s because of the circulating virus and autoreactive cells and autoantibodies. In such cases, it’s essential to treat the concomitant disease appropriately. There are also rare cases in which transplants are responsible for autoimmune diseases and even cancer.
8. The doctors won’t be interested in saving the lives of people willing to be donors.
(American Transplant Foundation)
This is a myth. Firstly, doctors work hard to save any patient’s life, especially in urgent situations. Secondly, the medical staff dealing with organ donation is separate from emergency or intensive care units. Organ donation after death — according to facts — is a very emotional and sensitive issue, and it’s no wonder that people sometimes blame doctors for the death of their loved one.
9. A living donation can be a costly initiative.
It’s true that — even though life-saving and greatly generous — donating a kidney or a liver part is a huge financial burden. Transplant-related costs in the US vary between $5,000–$20,000, and they include lost pay due to the time required for the procedure, recovery, travel, medical expenses, etc. The high costs are the reason for the a decreasing number of living organ donors, especially in low-income countries. Organ donation stats reveal that being a living donor can lead to losing your life insurance coverage or being charged with higher premiums after donating.
10. The family has to pay the medical expenses that accompany post-mortem donation.
(American Transplant Foundation)
This is yet another myth. The family of a deceased donor may only be charged for the medical costs before death and those related to funeral arrangements. Any expenses involved with the processing of organs and tissues needed for a transplant don’t transfer to the family of the deceased donor.
11. Buying and selling human organs is illegal, but transplant tourism is flourishing.
This is completely true. However, the practice is not banned on a global level. According to organ donation statistics, worldwide organ trade is flourishing. Today, people travel to the Philippines, China, and Iran to get a transplant.
However, transplant tourism has two big problems. First, recipients are at a severe health risk of non-screened donor diseases, higher rates of rejection, and severe infections. Second, the increased demand for organs around the world creates a niche for international black markets for organ trade. Moreover, these donors are often illiterate individuals, refugees, or prisoners. In America, organ trade is allowed for research purposes only.
12. You can receive an organ sooner if you pay a lot of money.
(American Transplant Foundation)
Many people cannot discern myths and facts about organ donation. Namely, receiving an organ from a living or a deceased donor depends entirely on factors such as blood type, immune compatibility, the severity of illness, time spent waiting, etc. Income, race, and social status cannot influence your place on the national waiting list.
13. A donation could be refused if a donor is in poor medical condition.
It’s completely true that age, illness, and physical defects can prevent someone from being a donor. The same goes for opt-out organ donation, and statistics reveal that all organs and tissues are evaluated to determine whether they are viable and suitable for transplantation. Interestingly enough, people with chronic diseases or those who had cancer are still encouraged to register as donors.
On the other hand, being obese can be a serious obstacle to getting a transplant. Patients are advised to reduce weight to a BMI of 30 or less before transplantation. Obesity is associated with complications after surgery, such as a higher chance of infections, reduced organ function, development of heart disease, and other health problems.
Worldwide Organ Donation Facts
14. Approximately 95% of Americans support organ donation.
However, only 58% joined the donor registry. Promotion campaigns could make donations more popular.
15. More than 155 million people in the US are signed up as organ donors.
Organ donation statistics from 2018 show that an average of 58% of the US over the age of 18 were registered as donors. The top three states with the highest percentage of registered donors were Montana (93%), followed by Alaska (92%), and Washington (89%).
16. 3 in 1000 registered people become post-mortem organ donors.
Whether an organ would be suitable for transplantation or not depends on the cause and manner of death. Keeping oxygenated blood flowing to the organs is of the essence. The stats on organ donation show that the most common types of illnesses or accidents that make the organ donations possible are severe head trauma, brain aneurysm, and stroke. It’s important to emphasize that the donation may take place only if the brain injury is irreversible.
17. The number of registered donors and transplants increases, whereas the number of people on the waiting lists decreases.
(Donate Life America Annual Report)
In the table below, you can see the tendency in numbers of registered donors, transplants, and people on the waiting lists in the US, according to organ donation statistics from 2019.
|Registered donors||Transplants||On a waiting list|
There were 6,831 living and 10,722 deceased donors out of 17,554 registered donors in 2018.
18. Males under 50 accounted for 65% of all deceased donors in 2018.
Furthermore, 61% of all deceased donors were males. The causes of death were connected to an unhealthy lifestyle that is more common in men than women. According to organ donor statistics from 2017, there’s also a higher prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in men than in women.
Statistics on the Transplant Process
19. In 2018, there were around 80 organ transplants in the US every day.
(GODT, Organ Donor, IRODaT)
There were 62% male and 38% female recipients in 2018. This accounted for 36,528 transplants performed in the US alone. There were more than 85,000 corneal and a million tissue transplants. Moreover, the number of transplanted organs in 2018 was the highest it had been since 2012. And according to organ donation statistics worldwide, in 2018, Spain was the European leader with a total of 2241 donated organs.
20. More than 700,000 transplants have been performed in the US since 1998.
(American transplant foundation)
The history of organ transplantation in the US began in 1988 when the Organ Transplant Amendments were added to the existing organ procurement and transplantation authorities.
21. There are 6000 living donations in the US every year.
As expected, there are fewer living donations than those coming from deceased donors. Furthermore, one-quarter of the living donors are not biologically related to the recipients.
Organ Donation Facts About the National Transplant Waiting List
22. The US national transplant waiting list consisted of more than 123,000 people in mid-2019.
(Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network)
This list includes men, women, and children, most of whom — above 100,000 — are waiting for kidney transplants. And kidney transplants make for approximately half of all organ transplants.
23. 1 person is included in the national transplant waiting list every 10 minutes.
Transplant statistics reveal that the demand for organs surpasses the number of registered donors. This is one of the reasons for the existence of black markets.
24. Between 18–22 citizens die while waiting for organ donation in the US every day.
(Donate Life America)
Organs are rarely donated on time. Consequently, around 8,000 Americans die in the US every year.
25. Based on where you live, you can predict how long you have to wait for a transplant.
It’s hard to predict when the organs needed for transplantation will be available. Wait times vary based on the blood type, type of disease, and location. Organ transplant waiting list statistics report that the shortest wait time in the US is in New England, whereas the longest waiting periods for kidney transplants are in the Southeast. The highest rate of kidney failure after transplant surgery was also observed in the Southeast.
Kidney Transplant Statistics
26. More than 80% of people on the waiting lists need new kidneys.
(Donate Life America)
Each month, over 3,000 new patients in need of kidneys are added to the waiting list. And unfortunately, 13 people die while waiting for transplantation each day. Of those on the waiting list, more than 4500 die each year, while more than 3500 have their health deteriorate so much that the transplantation becomes impossible.
27. 1 in 9 Americans suffer from kidney disease.
(American Transplant Foundation)
This accounts for approximately 26 million US citizens. Most of these people do not know that they have a disease. Fortunately, a lot of them get to the kidney transplant waiting list, statistics reveal.
28. Kidney disease is one of the top killers in America.
(American Transplant Foundation)
Kidney and liver diseases kill over 120,000 Americans each year, which is more than the number of people who die from Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, or prostate cancer.
28. The average wait time for a patient with non-functioning kidneys is 3.6 years.
(National Kidney Foundation)
The median wait time, however, is strongly individual. It depends on the health status, medical compatibility (ABO, immunological, genetic), and availability of organs.
29. Living donors account for almost 50% of all kidney transplants.
For comparison, only 14.6% of all liver transplants come from living donors.
Liver Transplant Facts
30. After the 5th year from a deceased donor liver transplant, the survival rate is 75%.
The chances of successful liver transplantation and long-term survival are very individual, depending on the health status, the underlying cause for liver failure, age, and the existence of other diseases. Taking into account all of these factors, the survival rate in the first year is 86%, and after 20 years, it’s 53%.
31. Approximately 8,000 liver transplantations are performed in the US each year.
(American Liver Foundation)
The liver transplant surgery is performed on people with end-stage liver disease. Liver transplant statistics reveal that getting a new liver can cure diseases such as cirrhosis. A liver transplant is also suggested when there aren’t any other viable treatment options left.
32. More than 14,000 Americans are waiting for a liver transplant.
(American Journal of Transplantation)
The number of people eligible for a liver transplant in the US increases every year. They are included in the national waiting list.
33. The time spent in the hospital after liver transplantation is about 3 weeks.
Liver transplantation — like other surgical procedures — requires more time spent in the hospital. This is needed to evaluate and follow up on the functioning of the new organ, the success of the operation, to establish the rules for home recovery, etc.
Heart Transplant Statistics
34. The first successful heart transplantation was performed in 1967.
The procedure was performed on a 53-year-old woman by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in Cape Town, South Africa. Since then, thanks to the available immunosuppression, the success of cardiac transplantation has increased worldwide.
35. The main goals and recommendations for cardiac transplantation are to extend the survival and improve the quality of life of patients.
(American Society of Transplantation)
Indications and contraindications for heart transplantation in adults include cardiac disease with poor prognosis, heart failure, and reduced heart function despite medical therapy. Thus, the primary factor for selecting patients is the individual prognosis, according to the organ donation statistics from 2016.
36. Up to 90% of heart transplant patients are alive in the first year after the surgery.
(American Heart Association, Aha Journals)
Between 85–90% of patients survive the first year after the transplantation, while the annual death rate increases with 4% each year after that. The three-year survival rate is estimated at 75%. However, the survival of the patient also depends on the underlying diseases and other medical and epidemiological factors.
These mortality rates are very similar to those associated with other forms of heart disease. Therefore, a lot of people in need of re-transplantation appear on the heart transplant waiting list, statistics reveal. For example, the survival rate of patients with congenital heart disease was 79% at one year and 60% at five years after surgery.
37. Early mortality after heart transplantation is associated with an acute rejection of the organ.
(American Society of Transplantation)
Cardiac transplant recipients experienced, on average, two episodes of organ rejection in the first year after surgery. At least one rejection episode is observed in 50–80% of patients, according to the heart transplant facts. Acute rejection, which is the cause of 18% of heart failure after transplantation, is most likely to occur in the first three to six months after the surgery. After the first six months, the chance of rejection declines over time. The early mortality can be due to infections as well (22% of cases). It occurs mainly because the immune system becomes inhibited by the anti-rejection medications.
38. The survival rate is higher in heart-transplanted children than adults.
The long-term survival of pediatric recipients was at average 16.1 years compared to a median survival of 10.7 years in adult patients. Many factors are responsible for these results, including health status, lack of other chronic diseases, etc.
Lung Transplant Statistics
39. Since 1988, about 36,100 lung transplants were performed in the US.
A large number of surgeries to transplant lungs were performed in the US, mainly for patients between 18 to 64 years.
40. After single-lung transplantation, the one-year survival rate is almost 80%.
Furthermore, the survival rate for lung transplants has been improving in recent years. Today, the five-year survival rate is above 50%, depending on many factors, such as facilities, countries, etc. Lung transplant facts show slightly better survival rates for double-lung transplants compared to the single one (median survival of 6.6 vs. 4.6 years, respectively).
41. A standard surgical procedure for single-lung transplantation takes between 4–8 hours to perform.
Transplantation that includes a transfer of both lungs can take up to 12–14 hours.
42. Severe complications after lung transplantation occur mainly in the first year following surgery.
The deadly and severe complications arise in the first year following the transplantation. However, complications can occur at any time, many years after the surgery.
Other Organ Transplant Stats
43. In 2011, the first successful womb transplantation was performed.
The surgery was executed in Turkey, where a 21-year-old woman born without a uterus received a womb from a deceased woman. The real success was observed later when the young women gave birth to a child.
44. A 1-year-old girl received six organs at once in 2008.
Due to a massive abdominal tumor and metastases, the affected stomach, liver, spleen, small intestine, pancreas, and part of an esophagus were successfully replaced by new organs. Although the mortality risk was estimated at nearly 50%, the procedure was performed when a suitable donor was found.
45. The most commonly transplanted tissue in the US is the cornea.
(American transplant foundation)
Eye donation facts state that more than 40,000 corneal transplants take place in America every year.
46. Face transplant surgery has become more popular in recent years.
Every face transplant procedure is unique, depending on the donor’s and recipient’s individual characteristics. Nevertheless, this procedure of fitting skin, nerves, and muscle, is often performed as a last hope to recover the normal life of patients. Still, face transplantation can have unpredictable long-term effects.
How many people are organ donors?
It depends on the country. For example, almost 95% of the population welcomes organ donation in the US. However, the number of actually registered donors is slightly above 50%. In Europe, 41% support organ donation, and only around 18% are registered as donors.
How to become an organ donor?
An organ donor can be any person in a state of health, with no absolute medical contraindications (serious infectious and oncological diseases). The person should inform their doctors and family about their decision.
How many lives are saved each year from organ donation?
A single organ donor may affect up to eight people by saving their lives. As a single tissue donor, they may improve the lives of up to 50 people. In 2018, more than 140,174 transplantations were performed globally.
Why is organ donation important?
Organ donation is a gratuitous act applied to patients in serious health risks who are looking for a second chance for a new life. The life of anyone who needs a new organ to survive depends on the willingness of donors.
Incorporating these organ donation statistics will help us promote this act of gratuity among other people and show the nature and importance of organ donation while raising public awareness. We also have to remember that we need to talk about this topic with our loved ones as well. They have to be aware of our decision to be able to make the right decision in a difficult time for the family, because we have to remember that, one day, we may need an organ donation as well.
- Aha Journals
- American Heart Association
- American Journal of Transplantation
- American Liver Foundation
- American Society of Transplantation
- American Transplant Foundation
- Donate life America
- Donate Life America Annual Report
- JHLT Online
- Live Science
- Mayo Clinic
- National Kidney Foundation
- National Kidney Registry
- Organ Donor