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Organ Donation: A Benchmark Year

Dr. Christine Durand of Johns Hopkins University speaking at a recent Donate Life event about organ donation
Dr. Christine Durand of Johns Hopkins University said recent transplants between
HIV-positive donors and recipients have shown promise. HRSA's Healthcare
Systems Bureau is promoting efforts to include previously excluded donors

For the first time, nearly 31,000 organ transplants were performed in the United States last year, HRSA’s Healthcare Systems Bureau (HSB) reported in April, signaling another milestone for organ donation efforts in 2015.

Almost 80 people now receive transplants daily, but 22 more die waiting because of the shortage of donors. So HSB continues to stress the importance of signing up to donate -- noting that a red heart on your driver’s license can improve or extend up to 8 lives.

As many as 120,000 men, women and children are in urgent need.   

At a recent National Donate Life Month event, Dr. Christine Durand of Johns Hopkins University discussed her work on a national project to establish the feasibility of kidney and liver transplants between HIV-positive donors and patients.

The project is among a number of cutting-edge efforts to increase the organ supply by allowing previously excluded donors – such as chronically ill or elderly patients – to give life to closely matched recipients.

Dr. Jim Bowman, Medical Director, HSB Division of Transplantation

The Hopkins pilot was made possible on Nov. 21, 2013, when President Obama signed the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act, sweeping aside a 30-year-old ban on HIV-positive donors as “outdated.”

Up until then, Durand explained, some regions of the country had been turning away as many as 300 donors a year.

“In addition, there are some donors who are discovered during evaluation to have HIV. And that could be as many as 60 per year” whose organs would previously have been rejected.

Durand said experience in South Africa – where rates of HIV and AIDS are much higher -- suggest that such transplants can be effective, with “excellent” survival rates.

Surgeons have met with success in the U.S. in transplant operations between Hepatitis C-positive donors and recipients, she added, which paved the way for the President’s recent change to a 1984 law.

Under the HOPE Act, surgeons at Johns Hopkins performed the first such operation in March, transplanting the kidney and liver from a single donor into two HIV-positive recipients.

“And both patients are doing fantastic, I’m happy to say,” Durand said.

Durand said surgeons at Johns Hopkins and more than 30 affiliated centers around the country plan to do as many as 300 kidney and 100 liver transplants over the next five years with volunteer recipients to judge overall outcomes (more on the Hopkins transplant program).

She compared the current known risks to that of donors and recipients who smoke, saying those with HIV “actually have a lower risk.”

In the coming weeks, the White House will host a summit to highlight these and other efforts to improve the availability of organs.

In the meantime, HSB reports, recent changes have shortened waits for hard-to-match kidney patients.  And more African Americans are receiving kidney operations – up from 31.5 percent to nearly 38 percent of all transplants. The Bureau oversees the delivery of donor organs, bone marrow and cord blood to needy patients nationwide.

Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, Chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery, also appeared at the event by remote feed to discuss a successful double-arm transplant to a wounded warrior. Brendan M. Marrocco lost all four limbs in a 2009 roadside bomb attack in Iraq and survived to become one of only seven people in the United States to successfully complete the procedure in 2012.

On June 13, the White House held an Organ Summit to announce new actions to improve outcomes for individuals waiting for organ transplants and improve support for living donors. Watch the White House Summit (recorded), and read the fact sheet.

Date Last Reviewed:  April 2017