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What You Need to Know About Organ Transplants

Getting on the Organ Transplant Waiting List

To get on the national transplant waiting list, UNOS tells potential recipients, contact the transplant hospital you and your doctor have decided on and ask for an appointment. You will be evaluated by the organ transplant team, which will take into account your medical history, current health status, and other variables to see if you are indeed a good candidate for the transplant.

Every transplant hospital has its own criteria for evaluation. UNOS has also developed guidelines. If the team accepts you as a candidate, it will add you to the national waiting list maintained by UNOS.

To find out if you are on the list, check with your transplant hospital. Written notices about who is on the waiting list are not sent by UNOS. According to UNOS, you may ask to be listed at more than one hospital, but be aware that individual hospitals can have their rules about that; be sure to ask.

UNOS keeps a running total of the transplant waiting lists in the entire nation, organ by organ, on its web site and updates it regularly. In July 2012, about 115,000 people were on the waiting list nationwide for organs of all types.

Organ Transplant Waiting Times, Policies, Procedures

The average wait time for an organ transplant varies by organ, age, blood type, and other factors. For instance, waiting times can reach seven to 10 years for candidates waiting for deceased kidney organ donors.

UNOS has an online database known as UNET, which collects, stores, and analyzes data on the patient waiting list, organ matching, and the transplants. All U.S. organ transplant programs, as well as organ procurement organizations and tissue typing labs, work together to share the organs. The database allows the facilities to register patients, match donated organs to patients on the transplant waiting list, and manage the data of transplant patients before and after the surgery.

More than 200 transplant hospitals operate in the U.S.

New federal rules that tightened standards for the centers took effect in June 2007. Among other requirements, the centers are now required to perform an average of 10 transplants a year, with some exceptions allowed, to keep federal funding.

UNOS distributes the organs first locally. But if no match is found, the organ is offered to a good match regionally and then nationally, if necessary.

What Are Your Organ Donor Options?

You also may have a choice about whether the organ donor is deceased or living.

Living donors are arranged through the individual transplant centers, according to UNOS. Another option, if you need a kidney transplant, is to contact the National Kidney Foundation's National Donor Family Council.

Your living organ donor can be a spouse or other family member or an unrelated person such as a friend, Spicer says. The potential living donor's blood is tested to see if she is compatible with the recipient.

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