The Basics on Organ Transplants

Do you remember the first time you filled out your forms at the DMV for a license and there was always that small question at the end asking, “Would you like to be an organ donor?” It seems like an easy question to answer with not much thinking involved but by answering that question, a life could be saved. Organ donation is one of the most underrated topics of discussion when learning science growing up due to the nuances of receiving a transplant and the idea that it is quite rare to know somebody who required an organ transplant.

When compared to the actual surgery itself, the organ donation process is fairly uncomplicated because the need to save lives is of great importance. Anyone over the age of 18 can register to be an organ, eye or tissue donor and you can change your status at any time. Anyone under the age 18 will need a guardian to make the decision in case an occasion arises. With this said, no one is too old or too young to donate. Even with certain health conditions, donation is possible and can be deemed viable. Living donations can occur for a few organs such as the kidney, part of a lung, pancreas, or intestines. But the major organs that are usually donated after death are the heart, kidney, pancreas, lungs, liver, intestines, hands, face, cornea, skin, heart valves, bone, blood vessels, connective tissue, bone marrow, stem cells, umbilical cord blood, and peripheral blood stem cells. 

Meanwhile, the organ transplantation surgery is a very serious and complicated surgery. It only occurs if a vital organ has failed, and it is used as a treatment option. Transplants are an operation that provide a functioning organ to someone who has an organ that has been failing or is not viable. Donations can be from live voluntary donors who can donate part of their functioning organs or from a recently deceased donor. There are many factors that help match a donor to an organ receiver. Some factors are blood and tissue type, the medical necessity, time on the transplant list and geographical location. There are currently many waiting lists for transplants, almost 113,000 individuals. In addition, every 10 minutes, another person is added.

Specifically, the matching process works by following 5 steps. The first step being that the actual organ is donated. The OPO (Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network) sends the information (size, condition, and genetic information) of the donor to the UNOS serving hospitals. The second step is that the UNOS generates a list of recipients from the transplant list that are medical and biologically fit for the donation. The third step is that the transplant center is notified of the available organ. The fourth step is that the transplant team in the center verifies one more time that the organ is a good match for the patient considered. The fifth step is that the organ is accepted or declined so that the surgery can occur or the organ is passed to another patient in need. 

In order to be considered for the physical transplant list as a candidate, one must be evaluated and be up to the standards of a transplant team. There are many different programs to get evaluated by transplants teams. Once you are deemed a good candidate, you are put on a national waiting list for the organ needed. It may take days to years to get matched for an organ, but never give up hope. Although, organ transplantation is a complex process, that doesn’t change the fact that it is critically important. It really is a fascinating process that needs light to be shed on. 


Radhika-Alicia Patel