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What You Need to Know About Organ Transplants

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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.

But even if the blood types are not compatible, you may be able to find a program that allows proxy donors. This is when someone who doesn't match the intended donor can still donate the organ for someone else's use, and the intended donor goes to the top of the transplant list. 

Another possibility is called paired kidney exchange in which recipients who have donors that are not compatible can enter programs where they are able to "swap" donors.

Those who need a transplant often ask if they can buy an organ. The answer is simple: No. In the United States, it is a felony to buy an organ.

Though other countries allow the sale of organs, a doctor practicing in the U.S. would not place that organ, Spicer says.

What's your main post-transplant concern?