Organ transplants performed in the United States reached a record high during 2016, for the fourth year in a row, according to preliminary data from the United Network for Organ Sharing.
During 2016, there were 33,606 transplants, an 8.5% increase over 2015 and up 19.8% since 2012. This growth can be mostly attributed to an expanding number of deceased donors.
About 82% (or 27,628) of the transplants involved organs from deceased donors, who often provide multiple organs. The remaining 18% (or 5,978) were performed with organs from living donors.
There have been fewer disqualifications of deceased donations over time, explained Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer of the organ sharing network, which serves under federal contract and brings together medical professionals, transplant recipients and donor families.
No uniform criteria for donations or enforced guidelines exist across the procurement and donation network, Klassen said. Instead, donation and transplant professionals use their best judgment to evaluate whether each donated organ will be safe for a patient, such as whether an elderly deceased adult would be a safe donor. Another source of donor organs is rooted in the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. “The number of donors who died of overdoses increased over the past year,” Klassen said. The percentage of donors who have died from overdoses is approaching 25% of the donor population in some parts of the country, he said.
Increased donation as a result of drug overdoses is not a trend anyone wants to see continue, he said but there’s still potential for increasing the number of donors.
“The transplant community is pretty energized in terms of trying to make use of all donors of potential,” Klassen said. One energized member of the community is the New England Organ Bank, which works with over 150 hospitals.