Health & Wellness

Organ Donation Facts and Statistics

Apr. 7, 2023

Organ donation is the process of donating one's organs or tissues to save the life of another person who is in need of a new organ.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), organ transplantation is recognized as one of the greatest medical advancements of the 20th century. Despite the importance of organ and tissue donation, there are still many misconceptions about the process.

Organ donation saves lives

Organ donation is a selfless act that can make a significant difference in someone's life. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), as of January 2023, there were more than 107,000 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ transplant on the national transplant waiting list. In 2022, there were approximately 39,850 organ transplants from deceased donors performed in the U.S. alone, a 4.6% increase over 2021. Total organs transplanted were 41,887 when counting living donor donation. That means that almost 42,000 people were given a second chance at life, thanks to willing registered donors. But the need for donations is much higher than the number of available organs—every 10 minutes, another person is added to the organ wait list.

One donor, 75 lives

One of the biggest misconceptions about donating an organ is that only one person can benefit from a single donation. In reality, one registered donor can save up to eight lives through solid organ donation and improve the lives of up to 75 people through tissue donation. A single donor can donate multiple organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and small intestine. Additionally, tissues like skin, bone and corneas can also be donated to help people with burns, fractures and other medical conditions.

Organ donation is safe

Organ donation is a safe and well-regulated process. All potential deceased donors are carefully screened to ensure that their organs are healthy and suitable for transplantation. Medical professionals thoroughly evaluate potential living donors to ensure they are healthy enough to donate. Additionally, receiving a deceased organ donation does not mean the quality of medical treatment given to the donor before death was any lesser—the donor and recipient’s care is always a top priority during the organ transplantation process.

Organ and tissue donation is not just for deceased individuals

Typically, when we think of organ donation, we think of receiving organs from a deceased donor. There is also such a thing as a living donor, which comes from people who willingly agree to give one organ or a portion of their organ while they are still alive and healthy, and typically involves donating a kidney or a portion of the liver. There are far reaching benefits to living donor donation. 

Living donor kidney transplant benefits:

  • Reduced waiting times for an organ.
  • Offers better long-term success than deceased kidney donor transplants.
  • Close to 96% of living donor kidneys are functioning at the end of the first year.
  • On average, a living donor transplant lasts 20 years.
  • Increased odds of immediate kidney function.
  • Fewer medications are needed to prevent rejection.
  • Rejections are less common.
  • Avoidance of dialysis before transplantation in some patients.
  • Immunosuppression can be started on the recipient prior to the transplant.
  • Surgery can be scheduled when the recipient is in optimal medical condition.
  • Recipient experiences less discomfort following the procedure.
  • Recipient may have a shortened length of hospital stay.
  • Recipient may return to previous activity level earlier.
  • After donation, a healthy donor can lead a normal life with only one kidney.
  • The life expectancy and general health of the living donor are not significantly adversely affected by donating a kidney.
  • The risk of the donor developing kidney failure is no different than if he or she had never donated a kidney.
  • Kidney donation does not affect an individual’s ability to have children.
  • Living Donor Kidney surgery is done laparoscopically through only a few small incisions, significantly reducing the length of the hospital stay to only one to two days.

Living donor liver transplant benefits:

  • Within 8-12 weeks after liver donation, the liver will regenerate to its full capacity at 90-100% of its original size prior to donation.
  • Benefits both the recipient and another candidate on the waitlist.
  • Shorter wait time to receive a liver transplant.
  • Reduces the risk of worsening disease for the recipient.
  • Preplanned surgical donation date.
  • Optimal donor graft.
  • Shorter ischemic time.
  • Improved long-term outcomes.
  • Faster recovery.

Did you know? Liver and kidney disease kills over 96,000 each year—more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. One in seven, or 37 million Americans, have kidney disease—and most don't even know it.

Organ donation can come from any age group

Another common misconception is that only young and healthy people can donate organs. While it is true that organs from younger donors tend to be healthier and have a higher success rate, there is no age limit for donating organs—donors can be of any age, including newborns, children and adults. The suitability of tissue donors and organs for donation is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Donating organs does not cost money

Another common concern is that donating organs will be expensive for the donor's family, but donating an organ is completely free. The donor's family will not be charged for any medical expenses associated with the donation process. Additionally, donating an organ does not affect funeral arrangements for a deceased donor, so the donor's family can still have a traditional open casket funeral if they wish.

Organ donation is a personal decision 

Deciding whether or not to become an organ donor is a personal decision. Some people may have religious or cultural beliefs that prevent them from donating organs, while others may have personal reasons for not wanting to donate. Religions can be antagonistic towards organ donations, but luckily, most major religions support organ and organ tissue donation in the modern day. It is important to discuss your wishes with your loved ones so that they can make an informed decision on your behalf if the need for a donation arises.

Organ donation can provide closure for grieving families

For many deceased donor families, the decision to donate their loved one's organs provides a sense of comfort and closure during a difficult time to save lives. Knowing that their loved one has helped save up to 75 lives of others can be a source of pride and comfort, even during a difficult time.

Life-saving decision

Organ donation is a life-saving decision that can help improve the lives of countless individuals. The need for both organ and tissue donation is high, and every donation can make a significant impact. If you are interested in becoming an organ donor, it is important to discuss your decision with your loved ones and register in your state. You can also become a living donor and donate the gift of life by donating your kidney or part of your liver in as soon as a few weeks, pending test results.

About UC Health’s Transplant Program

UC Health Transplant has led the Cincinnati region in solid organ transplantation research, education and clinical care for 55 years. Our team performs adult heart, kidney, pancreas, liver and multi-organ transplants—and all our programs are ranked nationally. UC Health also performs living donor kidney and living donor liver transplants.

The year 2022 was a record-setting year for UC Health’s organ transplant program, as 371 people received the gift of life through heart, liver, kidney or pancreas transplant surgeries performed at UC Medical Center. Among the 250 transplant centers in the U.S., UC Health’s liver transplant program ranks 17th by volume and its kidney transplant program ranks 33rd. Patient outcomes are excellent among patients transplanted at UC Health—we are ranked in the top 10% nationwide for positive patient outcomes for heart transplants. UC Health’s transplant program also celebrated a milestone anniversary in December 2022, marking 55 years since Cincinnati’s first kidney transplant was performed at UC Medical Center.

Lowest transplant waiting list times in the nation

Median wait times at UC Health are among the lowest in the nation—just 12 days for liver transplant patients, and 116 days for kidney transplant patients. We’re one of the busiest and most successful transplant programs in the nation with all of the resources at our fingertips as being the region’s only adult academic health system.

As an academic health system, UC Health provides direct, compassionate and subspecialized patient care, all while we teach the next generation of clinicians and conduct scientific research, allowing us to bring the latest treatments and knowledge from the lab table to our patients’ bedside.

Because of our partnership with the UC College of Medicine and our ongoing research, we’re able to transplant patients 50% faster than the national average. In fact, our liver transplant program transplants patients fastest in the region, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

We can do this because of academic medicine—we have the expertise and resources to transplant the organs and tissues that would otherwise be rejected by other transplant centers. With UC Health Transplant teams, our patients are getting the best possible care.