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What You Need to Know About Organ Transplants

If you need a new organ, you are probably coping with a lot of emotions. This article will help you understand what you will go through.

Organ transplantation -- the surgical removal of a healthy organ from one person and its transplantation into another person whose organ has failed or was injured -- is often lifesaving and gives the recipient a wonderful new lease on life.

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But organ transplantation is also a major surgery that carry potential risks and drawbacks, such as the chance of organ rejection. That's precisely why you and your loved ones need to gather as much information as possible on organ transplants, as soon as possible.

Organ Transplants: An Overview

In the United States, six types of organ transplants are now performed, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a nonprofit organization in Richmond Va. UNOS administers the country's only Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which includes the organ transplant waiting list.

Organ transplants include kidney, pancreas, liver, heart, lung, and intestine. Sometimes, "double" transplants are done, such as kidney/pancreas or heart/lung.

In 2009, 28,465 people received organs in the U.S., according to UNOS, a slight increase over the total for 2008 (27,966). Most recipients are between the ages of 50 and 64. To date, most donor organs have come from deceased donors. 

Kidney transplants are the most common type of transplant surgery; the least common single-organ transplants are the intestines.

Depending on the organ needed, organs are matched using several characteristics, including blood type and size of the organ needed. Also taken into account is how long someone has been on the waiting list, how sick they are, and the distance between the donor and the potential recipient.

You Need an Organ Transplant: What's Next?

Once your doctor gives you the news, he or she will typically refer you to an organ transplant center.

You aren't bound to go to the recommended center, says Gigi Spicer, RN, director of the Virginia Transplant Center at Henrico Doctors' Hospital in Richmond, Va. This is the point at which you as a potential transplant recipient have to become very proactive, even if you're still reeling from the news.

It's a mistake to give up and let your health care team make all the decisions, Spicer says. There are some things you can't control, but a surprising amount you can.

Start by searching for transplant centers by organ type, and then by state or by region, on the UNOS web page. Click on "Resources" and then "Member Directory."

You can get specific reports on centers nationwide by visiting the web page of the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients' U.S. Transplant web site, which is maintained by the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor Research Collaborative for Health. Included in the reports are waiting times, number of living vs. deceased donors, survival rates, and other facts.

The statistics can get complicated, so you should ask your own doctor or the facility to help you interpret them.

It is important, says Spicer, to educate yourself about your disease as much as you can and gather as much information as possible on organ transplants, so that you are an informed patient.

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