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U.S. Government Information on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation
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Home  >  About Donation & Transplantation

HOW PEOPLE HEAR ABOUT DONATION

People learn about donation in various ways.

Sometimes people hear about donation in school or driver's education, from their faith leader or physician, a television program or a news story. Some people hear about the need for donors from someone who is waiting for or had a transplant. Still others may learn about donation from the numerous community educators in the donation field who sponsor all kinds of events and outreach efforts to get the donation message in the public eye.

However they learn about donation, a seed is planted and an idea germinates and hopefully leads to donor sign-ups.


Organ Matching Process

Common Elements

Many of the elements considered in matching organs from deceased donors to patients on the waiting list are the same for all organs. These usually include: blood type, body size, severity of patient's medical condition, distance between the donor's hospital and the patient's hospital, the patient's waiting time, and the availability of the potential recipient (e.g., the patient can be contacted and has no current infection or other temporary reason that transplant cannot take place).

For certain organs, other factors must be considered. And, some of the common elements take on increased importance for specific organs. For example, thoracic organs such as the heart and lungs can survive outside the body for only 4-6 hours while kidneys can survive up to 36 hours and livers, up to 12. Therefore, distance between the donor's hospital and the potential recipient's hospital is more important for matching hearts and lungs than it is for kidneys or livers.


How are Hearts Matched?

People waiting for a heart transplant are assigned a status code, which indicates how urgently they need a heart. Because thoracic organs such as the heart and lungs can survive outside the body for only 4 to 6 hours (see Partnering With Your Transplant Team, page 10), they are given first to people who live near the hospital where organs are recovered from the donor.

If no one near the donor is a match for the heart, the transplant team starts searching progressively farther away to identify a recipient. Body size also is especially important in heart matching, as the donor's heart must fit comfortably inside the recipient's rib cage.

> Learn more about Partnering with Your Transplant Team

>Read details of OPTN Allocation of Thoracic Organs Policy (PDF - 2.36KB) External Web Site Policy

 


How are Lungs Matched?

The lung allocation system uses clinical information—including lab values, test results, and disease diagnosis—to arrive at a number which represents an estimate of the urgency of a candidate's need for transplant and the likelihood of prolonged survival following the transplant. This lung allocation score, and the common factors listed above, are considered to determine the order in which a donated lung is offered to potential recipients.

As for hearts, body size and distance between hospitals are especially important because lungs also must fit within the rib cage, and can survive outside the body for only 4 to 6 hours (see Partnering With Your Transplant Team, page 10). Lungs are therefore offered first to people near the donor's hospital. If no one near the donor is a match for the lung, the recovery team starts searching progressively farther away.

> Learn more about Partnering with Your Transplant Team

>  Read details of OPTN Allocation of Thoracic Organs Policy (PDF - 2.36MB) External Web Site Policy


How are Hearts and Lungs Matched?

Candidates for a heart-lung transplant are registered on both the OPTN Heart Waiting List and the OPTN Lung Waiting List. If a donor heart becomes available, the patient will receive a lung to go with it from the same donor. If a lung becomes available, the donor's heart will be given to the heart/lung patient as well.

Because thoracic organs can survive outside the body for only 4 to 6 hours (see Partnering With Your Transplant Team, page 10), they are given first to people near the donor. If no one near the donor is a match for the heart and lungs, the recovery team starts searching farther away.

> Learn more about Partnering with Your Transplant Team

> Read details of OPTN Allocation of Thoracic Organs Policy (PDF - 2.36MB) External Web Site Policy

 


How are Livers Matched?

Candidates who need a liver transplant are assigned a MELD or PELD score (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease or Pediatric End-Stage Liver Disease) that indicates how urgently they need the organ. A donor liver is offered first to the candidate who matches on the above common elements and has the highest MELD or PELD score first (indicating most need).

If the first recipient's surgeon does not accept the organ then the liver is offered to matching patients with the next highest MELD or PELD scores until the organ is accepted. Geographic factors are also taken into consideration, but livers can remain outside the body for 12 to 15 hours so they can travel farther than hearts and lungs. (See page 10 on Partnering With Your Transplant Team.)

> Learn more about Partnering with Your Transplant Team

>  Read details of OPTN Allocation of Thoracic Organs Policy (PDF - 2.36MB) External Web Site Policy

> Learn more about OPTN MELD/PELD calculators and how MELD or PELD scores are assigned


How are Kidneys Matched?

The identification of potential recipients for a donor kidney involves the common elements noted above including blood type, length of time on the waiting list, whether the recipient is a child and whether the body sizes of the donor and recipient are a good match. Other factors used to match kidneys include a negative lymphocytotoxic crossmatch and the number of HLA antigens in common between the donor and the recipient based on tissue typing. Kidneys can stay healthy outside the body for 36-48 hours, so many more candidates from a wider geographic area can be considered in the kidney matching and allocation process than is the case for hearts or lungs.

> Read details of OPTN Allocation of Kidneys Policy (PDF - 197KB)


How are Pancreata Matched?

Candidates who are waiting for a pancreas transplant are matched to an available organ primarily based on blood type compatibility and the length of time the patient has been on the waiting list. Since most pancreas transplants are performed at the same time as a kidney transplant, it is also necessary to match the kidney using the matching criteria described above for the kidney.

> Read details of OPTN Allocation of Pancreas Policy (PDF - 111KB)


How are Intestines Matched?

When matching the donor intestine to a waiting list candidate, the ABO blood group must be identical because of the higher risk of graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD), a violent immune reaction by the lymphocytes within the donor organ against the recipient's body that can lead to death. Also, the abdominal cavity shrinks up in many patients waiting for an intestinal transplant so the donor must usually be considerably smaller than the recipient so that the intestine will fit into the smaller space. Finally, because intestinal transplant recipients can easily get a severe infection from cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein Barr virus (EBV), patients who have never been exposed to CMV or EBV before are usually matched with donors who are similarly CMV-negative or EBV-negative respectively.

 


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