The news that former Vice President Dick Cheney had a heart transplant on March 24 put the nation’s transplant program in the spotlight.
That spotlight illuminates the critical need for organ transplants — and organ donors.
There are 113,758 candidates on the waiting list for transplants managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the private, nonprofit organization that oversees the nation’s organ transplant system. Eighteen people die each day waiting for a transplant.
UNOS, under contract with the U.S. government, supervises the list, matching donors to recipients in a round-the-clock effort. It also maintains the database that stores all organ transplant data from every transplant that takes place in the nation. It also helps develop and enforce the policies that determine how best to distribute the limited supply of donor organs to those in need.
Some people questioned whether Cheney got special treatment in receiving a new heart at age 71 while thousands of younger candidates await their transplant. More than 3,100 Americans are on a waiting list for a heart transplant. About 330 of those candidates die each year before one becomes available.
Doctors familiar with the system said it was unlikely the former vice president received any favors, and pointed to the fact that he had already waited 20 months and had a healthy liver and kidneys — essentials to qualify for a new heart.
UNOS says that when a donor organ is available, each patient in its database is evaluated against the donor characteristics. A computer ranks the candidates for each available organ. Blood type, issue match, length of time on the waiting list, immune status and distance between donor and candidate all weigh into the ranking.
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