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Organ transplants set records over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to preliminary data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
The nonprofit that manages the U.S. transplant system reported that, in 2021, there were more organ transplants than ever in a single year.
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The total transplants from January to December of last year – reported as 41,354 – exceeded 40,000 for the first time ever.
Speaking with WLUC, UNOS CEO Brian Shepard said that the milestone is the first time any country has done so many transplants in a single year and that the U.S. had bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic “faster really than anybody else in the world.”
“I was worried it would slow us down more than it has, but the hospitals, the doctors and nurses, the folks who are doing the organ recoveries have all been really resilient and committed to getting this work done,” he said. “When a deceased donor opportunity isn’t taken advantage of, it’s gone forever. You can’t postpone it, you can’t do it later when it’s more convenient or easier to do.”
In addition to seeing record numbers of kidney, heart and liver transplants, 2021 marked the eleventh consecutive record year for deceased donation.
There were more than 13,800 deceased donors in 2021, representing an increase of 10.1% over 2020.
Donors, both deceased and living, totaled 20,401.
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The reported number of organ transplants marked a 5.9% increase from the previous year.
The three organ types most commonly transplanted all set annual volumes, with 24,669 kidney transplants, 9,236 liver transplants and 3,817 heart transplants, respectively.
“We are gratified that transplantation continues to increase substantially and meet the needs of many more people with organ failure, despite ongoing challenges to healthcare relating to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Matthew Cooper, president of the UNOS Board of Directors, said in a statement. “This speaks to the dedication and collaboration of donor hospitals, organ procurement organizations and transplant hospitals striving to ensure every opportunity to give the Gift of Life is pursued and celebrated.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, many organs and tissues can be transplanted, including kidneys, the pancreas, the heart, the lungs intestines, the corneas, skin, bone, bone marrow, heart valves, connective tissue, the middle ear and vascularized composite allografts.
People of all ages can be potential donors and those who wish to become organ donors can join a donor registry, sign and carry an organ donor card, or let family members or loved ones know they’d like to be a donor.
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A living donation – such as the donation of a healthy kidney – is arranged through the individual transplant centers according to criteria they have in place.
The Mayo Clinic reports that as many as 20 patients die in the U.S. every day due to a lack of donor organs.
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