The number of U.S. residents on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant totaled 105,960 men, women and children as of late May, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit group that manages the nation’s transplant system under contract with the federal government. On average, 17 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant.
In 2021, 41,354 transplants were done, with organs from 20,401 donors, including both deceased and living donors. Kidneys are the most frequently transplanted organ, followed by the liver, heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines. Kidneys accounted for more than half of transplants performed last year (24,670) and represent the organ needed by more than 80 percent of those on the waiting list.
Most organs are donated after the donor has died, but some organs — the kidney and liver, for instance — can come from a living donor. People with two healthy kidneys can donate one and continue to live a normal, active life. For a liver donation, a portion of the donor’s liver is removed and transplanted, with the donor’s liver growing back to its normal size within a few weeks.
Donor groups say that a single donor can save up to eight lives, those donating tissue can help more than 75 people, and those who donate their corneas can restore sight to two people. The National Institutes of Health notes that donated skin tissue can be used as grafts for burn victims or for reconstruction after surgery, donated bones can replace cancerous bones and help prevent amputation of an arm or leg, and donated veins can be used in cardiac bypass surgery.
People who want to become an organ donor need to sign up with their state’s registry, either online or by visiting their local motor vehicle office. Donors can be of any age (although youths need parental permission). A donor’s medical condition at the time of death will affect what organs or tissue can be donated.
This article is part of The Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.