Every day we hear in the media and read on the web that so many people are on a waiting list for organ transplants. What do those numbers exactly represent? I will break them down by different organs and compare trends over the last decade so we can see how bad it is or how good it got. The latest data available that I will use are from 2000-2009. I know that we are in 2011 but 2010 almost just finished and it takes time to gather all the statistics.
I will first start with liver transplant:
There were about 16,000 people on the waiting list at the end of
2009 hoping to receive a liver transplant which has been steady for the decade. The number of transplants has increased by about 10 to 15% over that same period of time. A little less than 6,000 patients were lucky enough to receive a new liver in 2009. Just like we will see with kidney transplant, there are much more patients waiting for a liver than there are available organs. This is the reason behind the increase of interest for living donation. There are only a few select transplant centers offering this solution for now. Unfortunately about 2,000 people died while waiting for liver transplantation, which represents about 6 persons a day. This was a slow decrease over ten years though. Liver transplant expected survival rate at 3 years is just above 80% for living donor and slightly below the same mark for deceased donor (traditional donor) and is explained by the fact that living donor recipient are transplanted faster. They are less sick at the time of transplant.
How about kidney transplant?
Kidney is the only organ that has experienced an exponential growth of his waiting list. It went from around 50,000 patients in 2000 to more than 80,000 in 2009. That is a 60% increase over 9 years, which represents about 7% annually. Since the pool of deceased donor has not really increased we can easily understand why living kidney donation has become a popular alternative. Unbelievably, despite this huge increase on the waiting list, there has been about the same number of kidney transplant every year since 2000. The average has been around 14,000 a year (38/day) from 2000 to 2009 with a slight increase towards the decade. About 2,000 people died yearly while waiting. Much less patients, as a percentage, are dying while waiting because dialysis can replace the kidneys for years while someone is waiting for transplantation.
The most interesting statistic is that kidney transplant recipients expected survival rate was different depending if they received the organ form a living or deceased donor. At 3 years after transplant, living donor recipients have a survival rate of 95% while deceased donor enjoyed a survival rate of 88%. The reasons explaining this difference is that living donor recipients get transplanted in months instead of years. They need to be on dialysis for a shorter period of time if at all. Dialysis can take its toll on a body after years of treatment
Let’s talk about lung transplant now:
Lung transplant is the organ that has experience the biggest relative increase in number of transplantation over the decade. It went up by about 50%. In 2000, about 1,000 lung transplant surgeries were performed and in 2009 just above 1,500 took place. In real number it represents 500 more people saved a year. The waiting list dropped significantly during the decade also; it went from a peak of 3,700 patients to just about 2,000 on the list at the end of 2009. About one patient a day dies while waiting (~300/year). Lung transplant recipients have the lowest survival rate at 3 years being at 65%. This is explained by the complexity of managing those patients since the lungs are exposed to the outside world (the air we breathe) and put them at high risk for major infections. Repeated or untreated infection can permanently damage the new lung.
Finally we will breakdown some numbers for heart transplant:
The yearly average number of heart transplant has not really changed during the last 10 years. About 2200 heart transplantations were performed yearly during that time. The main change was seen in the number of patients on the waiting list. This number has fallen over the years for finally slightly going up lately. It went from about 4,000 a year all the way down to 2,700 and now being at about 3,000 candidates waiting for a heart transplant. Better medical management is a reason explaining less patients requiring transplantation. The number of actual heart transplant has been pretty regular hovering around 2,200 surgeries a year which represents 6 per day. There were also less patients dying while waiting which is directly related to the increased use of ventricular assist devices (VAD) also known as mechanical hearts. It keeps patients alive longer and more healthy while waiting for the gift of life. The expected survival rate is also similar to the one of liver transplant patients. About 80% of the heart recipients are still alive 3 years after transplantation.
As you can see, there is a severe shortage of organs. When including all transplant patients, before or after the surgery, there are good chances that you know one of them. It touches closer to home than we think and please do what you would like others to do for you, be an organ donor!