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Transplant process

Transplant data show more and more people receive transplants every year. Many people with transplants are living longer after receiving their organ(s) than ever before.

Waiting times

Waiting times vary widely for many reasons. The shortage of organs causes most patients to wait for a transplant.

The amount of time a patient waits does not show how well a transplant hospital or organ procurement organization (OPO) is doing its job. Each patient's need is different. Some patients are more ill than others when they are put on the transplant waiting list. Some patients get sick more quickly than other patients or respond differently to treatments. Patients may have medical conditions that make it harder to find a good match for them.

How long a patient waits depends on many factors. These can include:

  • Blood type (some are rarer than others)
  • Tissue type
  • Height and/or weight of transplant candidate
  • Size of donated organ
  • Medical urgency
  • Time on the waiting list
  • How many donors there are in the local area over a period of time
  • What types of organ offers the transplant hospital will accept

Depending on the kind of organ needed, some factors are more important than others.

Patient notification

Patients often contact the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to ask if they are on the national transplant waiting list. The OPTN cannot provide this information, since the transplant hospital makes the listing decision. Patients should discuss their status on the waiting list with their transplant team.

The transplant program must inform patients in writing within 10 business days of registration that the patient has been placed on the national transplant waiting list (including the date the patient was listed.)

Or, the transplant program must inform the patient in writing 10 days after finishing the evaluation that the patient will not be placed on the patient waiting list.

Once listed, if the transplant team removes the patient from the waiting list for any reason other than transplant or death, the transplant program must inform the patient in writing within 10 business days.

This policy improves communication between transplant hospitals and their patients. It also helps patients understand the listing and transplant process.

View letter transplant hospitals provide to notify patients, as required by OPTN policy.

Options to consider

It is important that transplant candidates know their treatment options. Patients can consider these options under OPTN policies:

  • Multiple listing: Patients can choose to be listed at hospitals in different parts of the country. Hospitals can vary widely in the number of transplants they perform and the characteristics of the donor and recipient pool. Organ procurement organizations can vary widely in the number and types of donors they receive each year. When patients are on the list at more than one transplant hospital, they can receive organ offers in more than one local area.

    Each hospital has its own rules regarding multiple listings. Patients should ask each hospital about its rules regarding multiple listings. Being listed in more than one area does not guarantee a patient will get an organ faster than a patient listed at only one transplant hospital. Transplant centers may require a patient to go through a separate evaluation, even if the patient is already listed at another transplant hospital.
  • Transferring waiting time: Patients can change their listing to a different transplant hospital. They will transfer their waiting time to that hospital. The new hospital will add the waiting time from the original center to the time at the new hospital.

    This requires the transplant teams at each hospital to agree to exchange information. The transplant teams must notify the OPTN of the transfer of waiting time. Patients should ask the hospital if it will accept the transferred waiting time.

  • Living donation: In addition to deceased organ donation, patients may also receive organs from living donors. The need for donor organs nationwide is far greater than the supply. Living donation offers a chance for more people to receive transplants, often sooner than they would from a deceased donor. Living donor kidney transplants are most common, although a living donor can provide a segment of the liver, lung, pancreas, or intestine.