Stats, Myths & Facts

The following statistics reflect the state of the national organ donor shortage at the inception of the Greatest Gift campus chapters. They were gathered from the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN), U.S. Census and Donate Life America during our first year of existance.

*2011 Update: While the authorization (formerly called consent) and conversion rates have increased 73.6% and 71.5% respectively the total number of eligible deaths has decreased. This means that it is more important than ever to increase the national donor designation rate and make the most of our opportunities to give the gift of life.

The Basic Problem
Over 75% of transplants came from deceased organ donors in 2008.
Number of deaths in 2008: ~2,500,000
Number of deaths eligible for donation in 2008: 9,864
Note: There were 587 donations after brain death in 2008 were considered extended criteria donors. There were also
848 donations after cardiac death (DCD).

< 0.5% of deaths in the U.S. in 2008 were eligible for organ donation.

National Donation Authorization Rate: 69.9%
Conversion Rate: 66.5%
National Donor Designation: 38%

The Growing Problem

Additions to the waiting list in 2008: 54,424
Removals from the waiting list in 2008: 49,203
21,703 deceased donor transplant
5,120 living donor transplant
7,280 died
15,100 other (i.e. condition improved, medically unstable, too sick to transplant, received one organ but waiting on another, refused transplant, transferred to another transplant center, etc.)

Net growth of the waiting list: 5,221 people

The Solution

Average organs per donor in 2008: 2.72 organs
At that average, 1,919 more donors would have covered the growth in 2008.
Note: This calculation assumes non-eligible donation and DCD to be constants.

There were 9,864 eligible deaths in 2008.
An authorization rate of 69.9% yielded 6,891 consents.
A conversion rate of 66.5% yielded 6,555 donors.

1,919 more donors would raise the number of conversions to 8,474 bringing the conversion rate 85.9% (+ 19.1%).
An equal increase in authorizations and registrations rates would yield 89.0% and 57.1% respectively.

This means that at an authorization rate of 90% or better we can begin to reverse the growth of the waiting list.

The Plan
As with all statistics, these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.  There are too many assumptions and variables (i.e. advances in medical technology) to accept this hypothetical situation as fact.  Regardless, most people would agree that there is a lot of room for improvement.  We believe that education and awareness the first steps to that improvement.  Brain death is almost always the result of an unexpected tragedy which means those in charge of the patient’s health care are usually consumed with grief, shock and sadness. This situation is never conducive to making an informed thoughtful decision.  By raising awareness and encouraging people to have conversations about donation with their loved ones, we hope to help raise the designation and authorization rates and start shrinking the waiting list.

The Myths & Facts

*Adapted from the UNOS Donation Myths Fact Sheet, and Mayo Clinic Consumer Health Report, Organ Donation: Don't Let These Myths Fool You
*Disclaimer: Following these links will navigate you away from the Greatest Gift, Inc. website.

Despite continuing efforts at public education, misconceptions and inaccuracies about donation persist. It's a tragedy if even one person decides against donation because they don't know the truth. Following is a list of the most common myths along
with the actual facts:

Myth: If I agree to donate my organs, the hospital staff won't work as hard to save my life.
When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life — not somebody else's. You'll be seen by a doctor whose specialty most closely matches your particular emergency. The doctor in charge of your care has nothing to do with transplantation.

Myth: Maybe I won't really be dead when they sign my death certificate.
Although it's a popular topic in the tabloids, in reality, people don't start to wiggle their toes after they're declared dead. In fact, people who have agreed to organ donation are given more tests (at no charge to their families) to determine that they're truly dead than are those who haven't agreed to organ donation.

Myth: There is real danger of being heavily drugged, then waking to find you have had one kidney (or both) removed for a black market transplant.
This tale has been widely circulated over the Internet. There is absolutely no evidence of such activity ever occurring in the U.S. While the tale may sound credible, it has no basis in the reality of organ transplantation. Many people who hear the myth probably dismiss it, but it is possible that some believe it and decide against organ donation out of needless fear.

Myth: Rich and famous people go to the top of the list when they need a donor organ.
The rich and famous aren't given priority when it comes to allocating organs. It may seem that way because of the amount of publicity generated when celebrities receive a transplant, but they are treated no differently from anyone else. In fact, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the organization responsible for maintaining the national organ transplant network, subjects all celebrity transplants to an internal audit to make sure the organ allocation was appropriate.

Myth: Having "organ donor" noted on my driver's license or carrying a donor card is all I have to do to become a donor.
In most states, hospitals can legally proceed with organ, eye or tissue donation, without consent from next of kin, if you have a driver's license with an "organ donor" designation are have signed up with an organ donor registry. However, it's important to talk to your family about your decision to donate LIFE so they are aware of your wishes and will feel comfortable honoring them.

Myth: Only hearts, livers, and kidneys can be transplanted.
Needed organs include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissue that can be donated include the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.

Myth: I'm not in the best of health. Nobody would want my organs or tissues.
At the time of death, the appropriate medical professionals will review your medical and social histories to determine whether or not you can be a donor. With recent advances in transplantation, many more people than ever before can be donors. It's best to tell your family your wishes and sign up to be an organ and tissue donor on your driver's license or an official donor document.

Myth: I'm under age 18. I'm too young to make this decision.
That's true, in a legal sense. But your parents can authorize this decision. You can express to your parents your wish to donate, and your parents can give their consent knowing that it's what you wanted. Children, too, are in need of organ transplants, and they usually need organs smaller than those an adult can provide.

Myth: I'm too old to donate. Nobody would want my organs.
There's no defined cutoff age for donating organs. Organs have been successfully transplanted from donors in their 70s and 80s. The decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age. Don't disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

Myth: My family will be charged if I donate my organs.
The organ donor's family is never charged for donating. The family is charged for the cost of all final efforts to save your life, and those costs are sometimes misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation. Costs for organ removal go to the transplant recipient. Funeral costs remain the responsibility of the family.

Myth: An open-casket funeral isn't an option for people who have donated organs or tissues.
Organ and tissue donation doesn't interfere with having an open-casket funeral. The donor's body is clothed for burial, so there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation. For bone donation, a rod is inserted where bone is removed. With skin donation, a very thin layer of skin similar to a sunburn peel is taken from the donor's back. Donated organs are removed surgically, in a routine operation similar to gallbladder or appendix removal. Because the donor is clothed and lying on his or her back in the casket, no one can see any difference.

Myth: Organ donation is against my religion.
Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most religions. This includes Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and most branches of Judaism. If you're unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith's position on donation, ask a member of your clergy. Another option is to check the federal Web site, which provides religious views on organ donation and transplantation by denomination.