Written by Zoe Engels, Contributing Writer and Editor, with John Rose from FINN Partners, Mark De Guzman from UNOS, and Maya Weber from UNOS
2022 was another landmark year for organ donation and transplants, with the U.S. setting annual worldwide records once again. Last year, 42,887 transplants were performed nationwide, representing a 3.7 percent increase over 2021 and restoring the lives of not only the patients impacted but also those of their families, friends, and communities.
Other records were also achieved: Deceased organ donation continues its 12-year record trend, and the number of annual transplants performed hit all-time highs for liver, heart, kidney, and lung transplants. More lives are being saved than ever before, and it is estimated that over 400,000 people nationwide are living with at least one functional organ transplant.
On September 9, 2022, the United States officially surpassed one million organ transplants. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) immediately kicked off a year-long celebration, Living It Forward, to commemorate this major milestone in the life-saving process of organ, eye, and tissue donation and to continue raising awareness regarding the need for more donors to meet patients’ needs.
Achieving these impressive numbers has taken time as more than half of transplants across the nation have been performed since 2007. The first successful transplant in the United States was a kidney transplant in 1954. The number of transplants performed remained low until the 1980s when there were increases in registered organ, eye, and tissue donors alongside increased scientific advances, including greater success in performing transplantations other than kidneys, enhancements in anti-rejection medication, new transplant programs, more transplant surgeons, and improvements in organ preservation. Also at that time, Congress passed new legislation, the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984, which created the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, establishing a national system to address the organ, eye, and tissue donation shortage and maintain a nationally organized system to match organs to individuals. All of these factors helped facilitate growth in the number of organ donations performed nationwide.
Since then, the rate of transplants has only continued to accelerate. The number of organ transplants performed annually is now more than double what it was approximately twenty-five years ago. Today, 15 percent of those annual transplants are from living donors, and 2021 marked the eleventh consecutive record-setting year for organ donation from deceased donors. The number of recipients from minority backgrounds has also increased over time, from 33 percent in 1998 to 58 percent in 2021 due in part to system-wide improvement in equitable access to transplants. To date, there is still an immense need for greater improvements in access and for more minority donors to help meet patients’ needs, which is one reason why organ donation advocacy and education remain critical in combating the organ, eye, and tissue shortage.
UNOS’s Living It Forward initiative is designed to “further accelerate the pace of donation and commemorate the lives saved, legacies honored and hope restored,” according to their press release.
“The organ donation and transplant community has made life-saving history together,” says Jerry McCauley, M.D., M.P.H., president of the UNOS Board of Directors. "Now, we invite donor families, organ transplant candidates and recipients, living organ donors and others touched by transplant to join Living It Forward and honor and celebrate the gifts that made this important milestone possible.”
It is a time for celebration and the encouragement of continued growth. Approximately 105,000 people are on the transplant waitlist and seventeen people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. But one person alone can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance over seventy-five more through tissue donation, helping on the road to the next million.
Passionate students such as SODA’s chapter leaders and members are contributing to these milestones and changing statistics. Thank you for all that you do! We look forward to this year of celebrating and continuing to advocate for organ, eye, and tissue donation.
Are you interested in joining the celebration and hosting a SODA event or starting a SODA chapter? Learn how you can get involved here.