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hiRecord set

All-time records again set in 2021 for organ transplants, organ donation from deceased donors

All-time records again set in 2021 for organ transplants, organ donation from deceased donors

In brief:

  • 40,000 transplant milestone exceeded for first time
  • Annual records set for kidney, liver and heart transplants
  • Deceased donation continues 11-year record trend

In 2021, 41,354 organ transplants were performed in the United States, an increase of 5.9 percent over 2020 and the first time the annual total exceeded 40,000, according to preliminary data from United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which serves as the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network under federal contract.

The three organ types most commonly transplanted all set annual volume records. There were totals of 24,669 kidney transplants, 9,236 liver transplants and 3,817 heart transplants. Liver transplant totals have set annual records for the past nine years, and heart transplants have set a new record each of the past 10 years.

“We are gratified that transplantation continues to increase substantially and meet the needs of many more people with organ failure, despite ongoing challenges to healthcare relating to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Matthew Cooper, M.D., FACS, president of the UNOS Board of Directors. “This speaks to the dedication and collaboration of donor hospitals, organ procurement organizations and transplant hospitals striving to ensure every opportunity to give the Gift of Life is pursued and celebrated.

“As always, we are indebted to the many thousands of people who make these transplants possible through the selfless gift of organ donation. And we are reminded daily of our need to help the tens of thousands of men, women and children continuing to await a lifesaving transplant.”

A total of 13,861 people became deceased organ donors nationwide in 2021, representing the eleventh consecutive record year for deceased donation and an increase of 10.1 percent over 2020. In May 2021, the weekly total of deceased donors exceeded 300 for the first time; on two subsequent weeks in June, the threshold of 300 donors also was surpassed.

Increases in donation occurred in many areas throughout the nation. Of 57 organ procurement organizations (OPOs), 49 experienced an increase in donation over their 2020 total. Forty-five OPOs set all-time records for donors recovered in a single year.

Donors representing less traditional medical criteria continue to fuel the overall increase. Donation from individuals who died of cardiorespiratory failure (DCD donors), as opposed to brain death, continued a substantial increase. The 4,187 DCD donors increased by 29.9 percent over the total in 2020. Also, for the third straight year, the most common age range of deceased donors was 50 to 64. The 4,270 donors in this category increased by 14.6 percent over 2020.

Living donor transplants, which decreased significantly in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increased in 2021, but still at lower totals than prior years. Some transplant programs have continued to curtail living donor transplant procedures temporarily in areas particularly affected by large outbreaks of the virus. A total of 6,541 living donor transplants were performed in 2021, an increase of 14.2 percent over the 2020 total.

hiVideos to understand allocation

Lung and kidney patients: Animated videos describe allocation scores and formulas

Lung and kidney patients: Animated videos describe allocation scores and formulas

Three brief narrated, animated videos are now available on the OPTN website* to describe formulas used in lung and kidney allocation policy. They are designed in particular for the needs of transplant candidates and their caregivers, to explain in plain language what the scoring systems do and how they are calculated. Each video also references the sample calculator for each formula on the OPTN website.

The videos address the following topics:

Transplant candidates, recipients or caregivers seeking more detailed information about OPTN allocation policy may call Patient Services at 888-894-6361.

* What is the OPTN? Learn here.

Find brochures about organ allocation policies on UNOS.

hiTransplant recipient and photographer, Debra O'Hearn

The Gallery at UNOS: Nov. 5 virtual opening of Looking Back

The Gallery at UNOS: Nov. 5 virtual opening of Looking Back

November 5, 2020, United Network for Organ Sharing held a virtual art opening reception. Watch recording below.

“Looking Back” is a photography exhibition featuring Debra O’Hearn’s art documenting her journey from diagnosis to survival. In 2011 photographer and heart recipient Debra shared a 12-piece photography tribute to her donor, 29-year-old Emily Compton. Debra, a former ER nurse, created the series detailing her intense 4-year battle. She received a lifesaving heart transplant on Easter Sunday in April 2007. This November, we shared the exhibit again along with recently created works of art.

The virtual opening included:

  • a tour of the art with Debra O’Hearn
  • a conversation with heart recipient Debra and her donor’s mother, Martha Compton
  • and questions from our virtual audience

Dedicated to increasing awareness of lifesaving organ transplants and organ donation, The Gallery at UNOS regularly features artwork by local artists and those touched by donation and transplantation.

hiArt of the SCAR piece, Haden Hopkins, Avery Bullock

The Art of the SCAR: Redux

The Art of the SCAR: Redux

Friday, July 10, 2020, United Network for Organ Sharing held its first ever virtual gallery opening for the Art of the SCAR exhibition, an exhibit that debuted in February 2014.

A scar is seen by many as ugly and something to be concealed. For transplant recipients a scar is a mark of beauty and of life. It’s a badge of honor.

In February of 2014, 15 transplant recipients and living donors teamed up with 30 high school photography club students to show off their scars. The unique project resulted in a multi media exhibition called Art of the SCAR. After 6 years as a travelling exhibit, we are excited to redux the show where it originally premiered. This time we will hold the opening reception in a virtual format.

What hasn’t changed, our gratefulness to all the original participants including transplant recipients, living donors and the Clover Hill High School Photography Club.

Watch the recorded virtual gallery opening here. See the photos from this exhibit and read about past exhibits at The Gallery at UNOS.


New national liver and intestinal organ transplant system in effect Feb. 4, 2020

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) has implemented a new liver and intestinal organ distribution system to improve the process of matching lifesaving organs to candidates in greatest need of them. This new policy will save more lives annually by providing more transplant access for the most urgent candidates. It also is expected to increase the number of pediatric liver transplants, making this a national policy that will work more efficiently and fairly for patients across the entire country.

The new system replaces the use of decades-old geographic boundaries of 58 donation service areas (DSAs) and 11 transplant regions. It emphasizes the medical urgency of liver transplant candidates and the distance between the donor hospital and transplant hospitals.

Livers from all deceased donors will first be offered to the most urgent liver transplant candidates (Status 1A and 1B) listed at transplant hospitals within a radius of 500 nautical miles of the donor hospital. Following offers to the most urgent candidates, livers from adult donors will be offered to candidates at hospitals within distances of 150, 250 and 500 nautical miles of the donor hospital. These offers are grouped by medical urgency.

The OPTN Board of Directors approved the policy in December 2018. It was implemented briefly in May 2019, then reverted to the prior system of DSAs and regions while a federal court considered a legal challenge to the new system. A court ruling issued Jan. 16, 2020, allowed the re-implementation to proceed.

Statistical modeling of the new policy projects that it will save more lives, with fewer patients dying while waiting for a liver transplant. It also makes the system fairer by providing more equitable access to a transplant based on medical need for the benefit of all patients. The policy also is expected to increase the number of liver transplants for children under the age of 18 by increasing their priority for organs from donors who are also younger than 18. The benefits of the system are projected to have similar effects across various socioeconomic groups and population types, such as urban, rural and suburban.

The policy was developed by transplant and donation experts, recipients and donor families from around the country, with consideration of more than 1,200 public comments.

The new policy takes effect at a time of sustained increase in organ donation and transplantation in the United States. Nearly 40,000 total transplants were performed nationwide in 2019, setting an annual record for the seventh year in a row. Of that total, 8,372 liver transplants were performed involving deceased donors, an increase of 6.7 percent over the 2018 total.

Find all liver policy updates here.


Transplant patient webinar addresses proposed changes to kidney and pancreas distribution

Public comment encouraged

Transplant candidates, recipients and their families have a unique perspective on national organ transplant policy. UNOS, in its role as the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Committee (OPTN), encourages all who are interested to read and offer public comment on proposed policies.

Two proposals currently out for public comment seek to eliminate geographic boundaries currently used in kidney and pancreas allocation. The proposed policies would replace local donation service area (DSA) and regional boundaries with a 500 nautical mile circle around the donor hospital. After the organ is offered to all eligible candidates listed inside the 500 nautical mile circle, it would then be offered to eligible candidates beyond 500 nautical miles.

The OPTN Kidney and Pancreas Transplantation Committees will host a webinar on Monday, September 16, 2019, from 4 to 5 p.m. EDT to describe the proposals for transplant patients and family members and encourage them to comment on the proposals. You may register for the webinar here

As time permits, presenters will answer questions from participants. The webinar will also be recorded, and a link to the recording will be posted as soon as available.

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