There are nearly 117,000 people in the United States—including over 1,700 children, 76 of whom are under a year old—awaiting an organ transplant. That number is increasing. Unfortunately, there’s only around one donor available for every ten patients, including living donors, and it’s a jigsaw puzzle rather than a Lego set: the transplant only works if it’s a match.
Transplantation is used when someone is so sick that the only option is to completely replace the affected part. People who indicate that they have decided to be part of the transplant program are agreeing to allow their kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart, and intestines to be removed posthumously and given to someone who needs it, if it is useable. Except for the heart, parts of these organs can also be transplanted while the donor is still living. A big risk in transplantation is that the recipient will have an immune reaction to the organ, so it is necessary that the donor and recipient have the same blood type and are genetically similar, which is determined through testing.
Living donors may be relatives of the recipient, meaning a match is more likely. In any event, living donors are available for pre-donation testing to determine whether the organ is healthy and how best to use it; this includes what is known as non-directed donation, in which a donor offers organs for transplant without specifying by whom the organ is to be used. Living donors need to be generally healthy, which means no high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease or heart disease, and have to have the same blood type as the recipient.
The costs of posthumous donation are borne by the recipient’s insurance, and not by the donor’s estate or family. The costs of living donation are also paid on the recipient side, including the donor’s medical expenses directly related to the donation; non-medical expenses, such as travel and lost wages are not covered. You can register as a posthumous donor in advance through the transplant registry where you live.