This website makes organ transplants in the U.S. possible

The DonorNet website matches available organs to needy patients. Photo by Morsa Images via Getty
PBS NEWSHOUR | Eric Boodman

The man died in Pennsylvania. It was a stroke in the middle of the night.

Within hours, the news had traveled across the country. Phones vibrated and pinged and rang. Metallic automated voices gave brief reports. Those receiving the news wasted no time. They were soon poring over the man’s medical history — diabetes, high blood pressure — and studying the function of his heart, his liver, his pancreas, and his lungs. With a few clicks, some would even be able to inspect the glistening surface of his kidneys.

These were transplant surgeons, scrambling to determine whether these organs in Pennsylvania could give their sick patients new life. But part of that work had already been done for them — by a website.

Called DonorNet, it is part of the online system run by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that oversees all transplants across the country. DonorNet can seem like an ever-growing library of tragedies — in late April, it held records of 3,945 natural deaths, 1,323 car accidents, 905 suicides, and 414 homicides.

Yet hidden behind the graphic details of gunshots and strokes and asphyxiations is a medical tool as finely tuned as any scalpel or ultrasound.

Its algorithms match the organs of those who’ve just died to those who are on the waiting list, and they are constantly being revamped, even as they handle more and more traffic. Last year, those algorithms facilitated 24,980 transplants — up nearly 9 percent from 2013. Continue reading
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