Understanding the organ procurement process and how organs are matched to patients in need of a transplant can seem complex at first. With over 115,000 people awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant, there are many candidates for each organ that becomes available, so the process of prioritizing patients for transplantation is very important.
There are several factors used to match organs with patients in need. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), has policies and computerized networks that align transplant candidates with donated organs in ways that save as many lives as possible, along with providing patients with the best chance of long-term wellness. Things like income, insurance or celebrity play absolutely no role in who is prioritized for transplant.
When a transplant hospital lists a patient as a candidate, their medical data is entered into UNOS’ computer network. Organ donor information is similarly listed in the database, along with the location of the donor hospital. Through a combination of donor and candidate data, the computer system generates an unbiased “match run,” or list of candidates who will be offered each organ. Patients who are in most urgent need of a transplant and/or have the best chance of survival will appear highest on this list.
An important step in the allocation process is ensuring that all transplant candidates on the waiting list are screened so that those who are incompatible with the donor due to weight, height, blood type and a number of other medical factors are ruled out for any potential matches. While these medical factors play a role in the allotment of every donated organ, each organ type also has its own distribution policy which corresponds with the factors that are unique to the organ type.
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Geography also plays a part – hearts and lungs have less time before they need to be transplanted, so a radius is established from the donor hospital instead of by region when allocating these organs. One additional aspect is matching the right-sized organ to the candidate. Correct organ size is very important to a successful transplant, and children often respond better to child-sized organs.
All of this goes to show that being an organ donor is incredibly important – one person has the ability to save up to 9 lives if they choose to donate. To date, there have been over 33,000 transplants which have helped patients and their families receive the Gift of Life.