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The Transplant Waiting List

The first step of the transplant journey is the national waiting list managed by The United Network for Organ Sharing. Nationally, there are approximately 113,000 people waiting for an organ transplant.

Hudson received a heart transplant thanks to an organ donor.
Hudson, age 6, waited more than 2 years for a life-saving heart transplant.

For most transplant candidates, the first step of their transplant journey is to be evaluated at a transplant center for inclusion on the national waiting list managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Gift of Life collaborates with UNOS to coordinate organ donations for transplant in our area.

Nationally, there are approximately 113,000 people waiting for life-saving organs. Most transplant candidates wait for some length of time because there are not enough donor organs for everyone who needs them.

How the waiting list works

Transplant physicians evaluate patients to determine if they meet parameters to be placed on the national waiting list.

The rules for allocating organs vary by organ type. General criteria in matching donor organs to the next possible recipient include:

  • Medical urgency
  • Blood/tissue type and size match with the donor
  • Time on the waiting list
  • Proximity between the donor and the recipient

Local patients typically receive preference when an organ donation happens in their community. This is because the less time that elapses during the transplant process, the greater chance of success for the transplant operation. With the exception of perfectly-matched kidneys and the most urgent liver patients, first priority goes to patients at transplant hospitals situated in the communities served by the local organ procurement organization (OPO), like Gift of Life Donor Program.

Next in priority are patients in areas served by nearby OPOs. Finally, only if no patients in these communities can use the organ, it is offered to patients elsewhere in the U.S.

Under certain circumstances, special consideration may be given to children. Factors such as a patient’s income, celebrity status, race or religion play no role in determining allocation of organs.

Average Median Wait Time to Transplant
  • Kidney – 5 years
  • Liver – 11 months
  • Heart – 4 months
  • Lung – 4 months
  • Kidney / Pancreas – 1.5 years
  • Pancreas – 2 years