More than 100,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, says Dr. Danielle Ladie, a transplant surgeon at UPMC Pinnacle and vice-chair of the UPMC Department of Surgery. According to a UPMC press release, 7,000 of those individuals live in Pennsylvania.
During Donate Life Month, which is observed in April, people are encouraged to consider donating organs to improve and save the lives of others. “Really the great limiting step in transplant is that we need organs to transplant into recipients,” says Ladie.
There are two kinds of organ donation: living donation, done via surgery while the donor is alive, and deceased donation, which is done after the donor has passed away.
Individuals can sign up to be deceased organ donors when they get their driver’s licenses. One donor can save up to eight people, says Ladie. However, the Health Resources and Services Administration states, “Even though millions of people have registered to become organ donors, very few of us die in a way that lets us share the gift of life.”
Living donors can help others by donating organs like kidneys and livers. Ladie notes that there are about 97,000 Americans on the waitlist for a kidney transplant.
“We want to help those people live a longer and better life without dialysis,” she says.
Dialysis can help make up for lost kidney function, but, Ladie says, it’s almost like having a part-time job. Treatments can take 12-15 hours per week. And with a kidney transplant wait time that can be around six years, says Ladie, some patients may no longer be a candidate for a transplant by the time they would be able to receive one.
Living organ donors don’t have to be related to — or even know — someone in need of a transplant in order to donate, Ladie explains. They could donate to a friend, a community member or a complete stranger.
The process of live organ donation begins with several tests to ensure that an individual is healthy and able to safely give up an organ such as a kidney. Then more tests determine what characteristics the recipient should have for a successful transplant.
Overall, donors are in the hospital for about two days, and the recovery takes about a month, says Ladie. The biggest restriction they face, she says, is no heavy lifting after the surgery.
More information on UPMC Transplant Services can be found here.