The number of patients awaiting organ transplants rose more than five times as fast as the number of transplant operations in the 1990s, the nation’s transplant network reported, documenting an increasingly acute need for livers, hearts and other organs.
The annual report by the United Network for Organ Sharing found slow growth in the number of organs from deceased donors, while the number of living organ donors more than doubled between 1990 and 1999. There was a continued rise in living donors who were unrelated to the recipient.
But the number of people on the transplant waiting list grew even more quickly, as medical techniques continue to improve and more hospitals offer transplantation.
The report, released Thursday, also found that kidneys from living donors are more likely to survive than those from deceased donors. That’s partly because living donors are more carefully screened and the surgeries are performed under more controlled circumstances,said network spokesman Joel Newman.
In 1999, there were a total of 21,715 transplants performed in the United States, up 44 percent from 1990.
But there were 72,310 people on the national transplant waiting list at the end of 1999, more than three times as many as in 1990. As of Wednesday, it had climbed even higher, to 74,073.
Deaths on Waiting List Tripled
The number of deaths on the waiting list has also more than tripled—from 1,958 in 1990 to 6,125 in 1999.
The data comes just a few weeks after Tommy Thompson, the newly installed secretary of Health and Human Services, promised to launch a national campaign to increase organ donation. Department officials are working to pull together options for Thompson, who vowed action by May.
Most efforts to date have revolved around public education, encouraging families to discuss donation before the situation arises. Others have worked to improve the relationship between hospitals and organ banks so that more potential donors are identified. Research is ongoing about the best ways to approach a grieving family about donation.
“If we knew exactly what motivated organ donors, obviously we would apply that to greater effect,” Newman said.
An estimated two in three Americans have not indicated their wishes about donation, he said. “If the family does not know what the wishes were, they seem to often say no, just because they don’t want to make the wrong decision.”
He also blamed myths surrounding donation. Among them: that doctors don’t try as hard to save people who are potential donors, and that celebrities and rich people have a better chance at getting organs than other patients.
The network’s report provides a wealth of statistics about organ transplants in 1999. Among the findings:
There were 5,849 cadaveric, or dead, donors in 1999, up just 3 percent from 1998 and up 30 percent from 1990. Each donor produced an average of 3.6 organs.
There were 4,712 living donors in 1999, more than double the number in 1990. The number of living liver donors more than doubled in just one year, from 85 in 1998 to 218 in 1999. In 1999, 5 percent of living donors gave a piece of their liver, with the rest giving one of their two kidneys.
Of living donors, 35 percent were siblings, 18 percent were parents and 20 percent came from people who were not related.
The portion of minority cadaveric donors increased from 18 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 1999.
Among cadaveric donors, 85 percent died due to head trauma or stroke.
The report also provided detailed information about survival ratms for those receiving various organs. Among those who received transplants in 1997-98, the report found:
89 percent of kidneys taken from a cadaver and 95 percent of the patients who received them survived at least one year after transplant. Among those who got kidneys from living donors, 95 percent of kidneys and 98 percent of patients were alive a year later.
81 percent of livers and 88 percent of liver transplant patients survived at least a year.
85 percent of hearts and 86 percent of heart transplant patients survived at least a year.