Organ transplants have saved more than 2 million years of life in the United States over 25 years, research shows.

But less than half of the people who needed a transplant in that time period got one, according to a report published in the Jan. 2015 online edition of the journal JAMA Surgery.

“The critical shortage of donors continues to hamper this field: only 47.9 percent of patients on the waiting list during the 25-year study period underwent a transplant. The need is increasing: therefore, organ donation must increase,” Dr. Abbas Rana and colleagues wrote.

The researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 530,000 people who received organ transplants between 1987 and 2012, and of almost 580,000 people who were placed on a waiting list but never received a transplant.

During that time, transplants saved about 2.2 million years of life, with an average of slightly more than four years of life saved for every person who received an organ transplant, the study authors pointed out in a journal news release.

The number of years of life saved by type of organ transplant were:

  • kidney, 1.3 million years
  • liver, more than 460,000 years
  • heart, almost 270,000 years
  • lung, close to 65,000 years
  • pancreas-kidney, almost 80,000 years
  • pancreas, just under 15,000 years
  • intestine, about 4,500 years

The researchers suggested a straightforward solution.

“We call for deepened support of solid-organ transplant and donation – worthy endeavors with a remarkable record of achievement and a tremendous potential to do even more good for humankind in the future,” the study authors concluded.

For more information on organ transplants, visit our Health Library.

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