118,000 on transplant waiting list; extreme organ shortage

118,000 on transplant waiting list; extreme organ shortage

18 people die each day waiting for transplants that cannot take place because of the shortage of donated organs. A nationally publicized legal battle this week over a Pennsylvania girl's lung transplant sparked a new debate over the waiting list and donation process.     

10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan's family won the legal battle victory to add her name to the list for an adult lung after 18 months of waiting, with cystic fibrosis destroying her lungs. "It was a direct result of the ruling that allowed her to be put on the adult list," said Sarah's aunt, Sharon Ruddock. "It was not pediatric lungs, she would've never have gotten these lungs otherwise."

The organization that oversees national transplant policies has approved a one year change to make children under the age of 12 eligible to be put on the adult lung transplant list. That policy change is in effect until July 2014, then it will be reevaluated.

On Wednesday, adult lungs were flown in from Detroit and delivered to Sarah. "They were able to resize the adult lungs without any issue," said Ruddock, "it was a perfect fit into Sarah."

Sarah represented just one of the 118,000 on the organ transplant waiting list. Suzanna Morton with the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA) says there is an extreme shortage of organs available to those that desperately need them. "A lot of people think that when they put that little red heart on their license that they will automatically become an organ donor," said Morton, "but the reality is that only about three percent of us will actually become organ donors when we die."

Most deceased organ donors have been declared brain dead in a hospital and are on a ventilator to keep their heart beating and blood flowing to their organs.     

If that criteria is met, the next step in matching is blood type, size of the organ and location.      Then, it is up to the score. Sarah Murnaghan's score was a 91, moving her near the top of the list. "There is one large list, but for each particular organ that we recover they are scored in different ways for each organ and so there are different categories," said Morton.

The one year policy change affects about 30 children on the waiting list for lungs. While those families are encouraged at the possibility of getting a transplant sooner, Morton says the harsh reality of 18 people dying every day waiting, will only change if more people choose to become donors. "We can help in that if more people register," said Morton, "if more people are saying yes."

You can register to become an organ donor at your local DMV or by clicking here and filling out the registration form.

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