Philadelphia, PA – The need for families to save lives by saying “yes” to organ donation is more urgent than ever. With more than 100,000 children and adults awaiting a transplant across the U.S., Gift of Life Donor Program, founded in 1974, is rallying our healthcare partners and the entire community to join us in commemorating our 50th anniversary by furthering its strong commitment to donation.
Gift of Life has coordinated 14,196 donors and 39,469 organs for transplant – more than any other U.S. organ procurement organization (OPO) since the inception of our national donation system in 1988. Yet the need for life-saving organs continues to far exceed the number available. Each day, seventeen people die waiting for a transplant and, every ten minutes, another child or adult is added to the national waitlist.
“This is a public health crisis most people don’t think about until it affects them. With the increase in diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease, any family can suddenly find a loved one in need of an organ transplant to survive,” said Richard D. Hasz, Jr., MFS, CPTC, President and CEO of Gift of Life Donor Program, Gift of Life Transplant Foundation and Gift of Life Howie’s House. “Here’s what we’ve learned in Gift of Life’s nearly 50-year history: We can’t save lives without you — without each person in our community using their extraordinary power to say ‘yes’ to donation and every hospital partner embracing their role to ensure families are provided with the donation opportunity as part of compassionate end-of-life care.” Hasz called on hospitals, faith, business, government, and community leaders to partner with Gift of Life, and for families throughout our region to start a conversation about donation and register at donors1.org.
“The partnership of our hospitals and community has made it possible for Gift of Life to make a profound impact on generations – far greater than we could have imagined when our donor program was founded. We have seen tremendous advancements in science and technology, but transplantation still would not be possible without the fundamental kindness of people who, often at their worst moment, make a selfless decision to help others,” said Clyde F. Barker, MD, transplant surgeon, co-founder of Gift of Life and board member. “Our ability to continue saving lives relies on that kindness along with the skill of Gift of Life staff and dedicated hospital partners working in close collaboration to offer families the opportunity for donation in a caring and sensitive manner.”
In 2023, Gift of Life continued to build its nearly 50-year legacy with 693 organ donors resulting in 1,734 transplants and continued to rank in Tier 1 of CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) OPO donation and transplant performance metrics.
Gift of Life also continued to lead the nation in providing kidneys — the most-needed organ for transplant — with 991 transplanted in 2023 bringing its total number to 20,825, which is the most kidneys for transplant overall in U.S. history. This historic accomplishment aligns with CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and HRSA (Health Resources and Services Administration) initiatives to improve kidney utilization and access. A half million people in the U.S. are suffering from End-Stage Renal Disease, with 90,000 awaiting a kidney transplant.
Donor heroes also transform lives through tissue donation. In 2023, Gift of Life recovered precious tissues from 2,675 donors, including 1,433 musculoskeletal donors and 2,278 cornea donors. These life-changing donations can benefit more than 140,000 people, with bone donations for orthopedic and sports injuries, skin for burn patients and reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients, heart valves to repair life-threatening defects and corneas to provide the gift of sight.
Research shows that approximately 30 percent of families who decline the opportunity to support donation at the difficult time of their loved one’s death later wish their decision had been different. Celeste Brown talks about how her devastation following her son’s murder prevented her from embracing the opportunity for him to save others. With time to heal and her own life-saving kidney transplant, she is now a strong advocate for donation. Read her unique story.
Gift of Life’s expert donation professionals collaborate closely with 126 acute care hospitals in our region and hundreds of transplant centers across the U.S.
“As we rally our community to support donation, Gift of Life’s world-class team works with urgency side-by-side with our dedicated hospital partners. It is vital that we provide the opportunity for every family to create a heroic legacy of saving lives through donation for their loved one,” said Christine Radolovic, MS, BSN, RN, Gift of Life Chief Clinical Officer. “Our transplant coordinators shepherd families through the donation process as hospital teams compassionately care for donors. Together, we honor the inspiring generosity of each donor hero and family.”
Gift of Life recognizes hospitals for championing donation with its annual Gift of Life Award. In this video, our 2023 award winner reflects on caring for families and their partnership with Gift of Life.
After supporting families in the hospital, Gift of Life’s continuing care includes grief counseling and special programs such as annual Life and Legacy Celebrations that honor donor heroes and their families. The organization’s 2023 Life & Legacy Celebrations were the largest ever, supporting a community of hundreds of family members and friends who gathered to honor 235 donor heroes. View this year’s virtual ceremony.
These ceremonies honor donors like six-year-old Orlando Mojica, who loved superheroes and became a hero himself, saving lives through organ donation when he died of respiratory failure due to asthma. His parents said they chose to support donation knowing what a kind and thoughtful boy he was. “We knew he would have wanted to help you,” they wrote to Orlando’s transplant recipients. Read more of this family’s story.
“It is our fundamental human responsibility to help others. Everyone can make a positive impact by taking less than one minute to sign up as a donor and bring hope to the nearly 5,000 children and adults waiting desperately for a transplant in our region. They wait anxiously, wondering when they’ll get the call to tell them a precious organ is available,” said Jan L. Weinstock, Esq., Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel.
The legacy of a donor hero has filled Patrick Brett’s future with hope. Patrick says he always loved sports but could no longer play after a heart condition caused him to pass out on a basketball court at age 13. He later turned to coaching but his health worsened. A heart-lung transplant saved Patrick and allows him to enjoy life with his family and help hundreds of students as both a baseball coach and a school counselor. Here is his inspiring story.
Leader in Innovation and Education
Gift of Life is recognized internationally for expertise, innovation, and leadership. The donor program remains steadfast in continuing to expand the broadest array of services of any OPO in the U.S. as part of its nearly 50-year commitment to serve the donation and transplantation community. Gift of Life provides our clinical partners and donor families with the most comprehensive, efficient, and compassionate care possible. Beyond coordinating the recovery of organs and tissues from deceased donors and educating the public about the importance of donation, services include:
- Screening and coordinating the importation and transportation of organs for transplant from other areas of the country for patients in our community.
- Implementing organ preservation technologies to expand the number of organs available for life-saving transplants.
- Providing organ preservation, packaging, and transportation in support of living kidney donation.
- Creating Gift of Life Donor Care Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the first intensive care unit in the Northeast U.S. exclusively for deceased organ donors. The Center:
- Has supported 189 donors who have made the transplant of 627 life-saving organs possible since its opening in 2022.
- Supports hospitals by freeing up ICU beds and critical care staff to care for seriously ill patients.
- Expedites the donation process so that families can proceed with arrangements to honor their loved one.
- Partnering with research groups to advance transplantation science:
- Providing more than 500 organs for research in 2023.
- Partnering with the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) on the pediatric Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to support critical research on disease processes and progression.
- Partnering with researchers on xenotransplantation.
- Providing full-service tissue recovery.
- Providing its own eye bank for donor screening, cornea evaluation and placement for transplant (one of the few U.S. OPOs to do so).
Gift of Life Institute is celebrating its 20th anniversary as an international training center for organ and tissue donation professionals grounded on the experience of Gift of Life Donor Program. The Institute’s comprehensive, interdisciplinary resources designed to increase donation outcomes include skills-based learning, continuing education, collaborative research, and consulting services. Since its inception in 2004, the Institute has facilitated more than 600 workshops with all U.S. OPOs and multiple tissue banks, training over 14,000 professionals from across the U.S. and 33 countries around the world. In 2023, the Institute conducted training for more than 650 participants.
Transplant Pregnancy Registry International (TPRI) is the only research study in the world tracking the effects of pregnancy on transplant recipients and the effects of immunosuppressive medications on fertility and pregnancy outcomes. Many transplant recipients were warned not to attempt pregnancy in years past. TPRI has helped give organ recipients science-based information to achieve post-transplant parenthood through more than 34 years of expert research.
Since 1991, the TPRI team and its collaborators have tracked 3,152 parents and 5,511 pregnancies; celebrated more than 310 grandchildren; presented information at 561 academic forums; and written 310 publications including 86 peer-reviewed publications. Their work informs treatment guidelines, education to providers, and guidance to recipients worldwide.
Transplant Foundation, the supporting affiliate of Gift of Life Donor Program, leads research and education to advance donation and transplantation around the world. It also provides grants to fund innovation, quality and safety through scientific research, social and behavioral interventions or alternate approaches to existing processes and protocols. Transplant Foundation has funded more than 22 research initiatives in recent years.
Transplant Foundation helps support transplant recipients, living donors and donor family participation as part of Team Philadelphia at the Transplant Games of America. Team Philly will participate in the 2024 Games to be held July 5-10 in Birmingham, Alabama. See Team Philly in action in this highlights video from the 2022 Transplant Games. It also supports Camp Jeremy, a summer day camp filled with fun and friendship for young transplant recipients and their siblings.
Gift of Life’s annual Donor Dash supports Transplant Foundation by raising funds and increasing public awareness of the critical need for organ and tissue donors. Gift of Life’s 26th Annual Donor Dash in April 2023 was an overwhelming success, drawing more than 10,000 participants from throughout its tri-state region and raising more than $540,000 for programs to support donor families and transplant recipients. The event also drew virtual participants from 30 states, Washington, D.C. and Ireland. Experience the excitement of Dash in this highlights video.
Gift of Life Howie’s House has been a special haven of comfort, hope and healing for thousands of transplant patients and their families for more than a decade. The House serves as a 32-room warm and welcoming home away from home providing temporary, affordable lodging and professional supportive services for families traveling to Philadelphia for a life-saving transplant for their loved one. The House is the first healthcare hospitality house in the U.S. founded by an organ procurement organization and serving multiple transplant centers.
The House has provided 94,285 nights of lodging, food, and supportive services since it opened. With community support, The House has served 338,478 meals and provided 15,366 free shuttle trips to local hospitals.
The House’s Caregiver Lifeline Program, which provides free transplant education and support through programs such as webinars and virtual support groups for transplant patients, caregivers, and professionals expanded its reach in 2023. Nearly 3,000 participants attended these programs from most U.S. states and multiple countries. Licensed social workers from the House developed two new, comprehensive resources available online at no cost:
- “Preparing for Transplant: A Guidebook for Transplant Patients and Families”
- “Returning Home After Transplant: A Guidebook for Transplant Patients and Families”
Commitment to Our Community
Gift of Life’s commitment to support transplant patients and their caregivers/families throughout their journey extends beyond The House and includes grants to help those receiving care at transplant centers across its entire service area. Gift of Life has provided more than $13.8 million in subsidized care during the past 12 years through various initiatives supporting transplant patients and their families.
The licensed social workers of Gift of Life’s Family Support Services team share their expertise with frontline professionals in our community through an annual webinar for Mental Health Awareness Month in May: “Grief – Universal but Misunderstood”
Gift of Life continues to engage our community and make more people aware of the importance of registering as a donor to save lives:
- Gift of Life partnered with the acclaimed St. Thomas Gospel Choir of Philadelphia for our inaugural Donor Sabbath Concert in November 2023. Donor Sabbath is an annual observance focused on inspiring faith-based conversations about the critical need for donors. Read our Donor Sabbath Proclamation and list of faith community supporters.
- Gift of Life collaborates with faith leaders, houses of worship, and faith-based organizations throughout the year and provides “It’s About Life” grants for educational programs to increase donor registration.
- In 2023, the Gift of Life College Challenge involved student groups from 15 colleges and registered 681 donors who have the combined potential to save about 5,000 lives (one organ donor can save eight lives). Registration is open for the 2024 Gift of Life Challenge at donors1.org/college.
- High school programs include school summits, grants, curriculum guides and more to educate students about the vital importance and impact of donation.
About Gift of Life Donor Program
Gift of Life Donor Program, founded in 1974 and headquartered in Philadelphia, is the federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO) for the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware. It works with 126 acute care hospitals and 12 transplant centers in its region, as well as hundreds of transplant centers throughout the country, to provide the most comprehensive array of services available in the U.S. to the donation and transplantation community. Thanks to the generosity of its community, Gift of Life has coordinated 14,196 donors and 39,469 organs for transplant, the most of any OPO in the country since the inception of our national donation system in 1988. Overall, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 59,000 organs and more than two million tissue transplants since its founding. One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people, and a tissue donor can improve the lives of 100 others. For more information or to register, visit donors1.org.