Organ donation and transplantation offer the gift of life to many individuals in Colorado and Wyoming. Transplant recipients undergo a surgical process that replaces failing organs with healthy ones from others who no longer need them. Vital organs are replaced, giving those with life-threatening diseases or injuries a second chance at life. Additionally, donated tissues such as corneas, tendons, and bones can enhance lives by restoring sight, movement, and physical functions.
Typically, organ and tissue donors are individuals who have recently passed away. They have either registered as organ and tissue donors before death or had their family make the decision on their behalf. In 2022, Colorado ranked second in the nation for donor designation. 66% of residents are registered, surpassing the national average of 48.9%. Wyoming also ranked among the top five nationally. 61% of residents were registered in 2022.
Approximately 1,500 people in Colorado and Wyoming await lifesaving organ transplants. This contributes to the over 100,000 individuals nationwide on the waiting list. Thousands more could benefit from organ and tissue donations, providing a new chance at a healthy and productive life. Unfortunately, the demand surpasses the available donors. A single person can save up to eight lives through organ donation and save and heal up to 75 lives through tissue donation.
Global and US Organ Donor Statistics
Currently, over 103,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list. The list is diverse—it includes people of every age, ethnicity, and gender. Blood type and other medical factors weigh into the allocation of every donated organ. In 2022, more than 42,000 organ transplants were performed in the United States. This is an increase of 3.7% over 2021 and a new annual record, according to preliminary data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Also, for the first year ever, more than 25,000 kidney transplants were performed in the United States, which marked an increase of 3.4% over 2021. In addition, annual records were set for liver (9,528), heart (4,111) and lung (2,692) transplants.
Demographic Breakdown and Historical Trends
In 1954, the kidney was the first human organ to be transplanted successfully. Liver, heart, and pancreas transplants were successfully performed by the late 1960s. Lung and intestinal organ transplant procedures started in the 1980s. Until the early 1980s, the potential of organ rejection limited the number of transplants performed. Medical advances in the prevention and treatment of rejection led to more successful transplants and an increase in demand. In 2022, the U.S. reached an historic milestone of one million transplants.
The need for life-saving organ transplants affects all communities regardless of race, age, and sex. However, there is a far greater need for organ transplants among multicultural communities. Similarly, a prevalent need for more multicultural individuals to sign up as organ and tissue donors. Almost 60% of those on the waiting list nationally are from multicultural communities. The highest populations include Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islander. While organs are not matched according to race or ethnicity, transplant matches made within ethnic groups can be more compatible.
That’s why it is so important for people in multicultural communities to register as an organ donor. Data has shown that people from diverse backgrounds are more likely to need an organ transplant. This is partially because some diseases that may lead to organ failure, such as diabetes and high blood pressure are more prevalent in multicultural populations. For example, African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders are three times more likely than Caucasians to suffer from end-stage renal disease, often as the result of high blood pressure and other conditions.
The Importance and Impact of Organ Donor Registration
Saying “yes” to organ and tissue donation saves and heals lives. Every year, organ and tissue transplants provide hope to tens of thousands of people suffering from disease, injury, trauma, or blindness. People can register to give the gift of life when they get or renew their driver license or state ID, or anytime online.
As of 2022, 170 million people in the U.S. have registered as donors. Nearly 21,300 donors bringing new life to recipients and their families. Here in Colorado and Wyoming, 278 donors in the region saved more than 700 lives through organ donation last year. Nearly 2,000 tissue donors saved and healed more than 143,000 people last year.
The Organ Donation Process
When a person has a life ending injury and is connected to ventilated support, the hospital contacts Donor Alliance who evaluates if donation is possible. Donor Alliance talks with the family about donation and honoring their loved one’s decision. A nationwide database quickly identifies the best match for an organ recipient for transplantation. Donor Alliance then walks alongside the family during the recovery process, ensuring the donor’s gifts are safely received at transplant centers in a timely manner.
Timing is important as organs can only be preserved for a fairly short time. Transplant teams prefer the shortest possible preservation time to offer the best chance of a successful transplant. Kidneys are usually transplanted within 36 hours after removal from the donor. The liver, pancreas, and intestinal organs are typically transplanted within 12 hours. Hearts and lungs have the shortest preservation time; they are usually transplanted within six hours.
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) partners with the community and with innovative technology companies to continuously improve the proprietary, secure online-based systems involved in placing donated organs efficiently. These partnerships also support the collection of essential data that help improve the national system and increase the number of transplants. Researchers test and innovate to increase efficiency—enabling all parts of the organ donation and transplant community to thrive and to save and heal even more lives.
Personal Stories and Testimonials
Amy is a donor mother from Englewood, CO. In 2001, Amy’s daughter, Nicole, was just 15 years old when she passed away. There is nothing more devastating than losing a child. But in the midst of her loss, Amy made a decision that ultimately saved many lives. Amy’s daughter Nicole donated her heart, liver, and kidney to people in need of life-saving transplants. Because of this generous gift, numerous people were given a second chance at life.
Mandee is one of those people. She had suffered from a congenital heart defect since birth, but after receiving Nicole’s heart, Mandee has a new lease on life. In 2003, Mandee was a bridesmaid at Nicole’s sister’s wedding.
“Donor Alliance has been a great lifeline for me. They were there for our family during our grief and they serve as a support to us today. Almost 10 months after Nicole died, I attended a Donor Alliance workshop on how to tell your story. I always knew that donating was the right thing to do, but until that day I never realized how many people die waiting for organs. That was the day I realized I’d been so wrapped up in the tragedy of Nicole’s death that I forgot that she gave three people a new lease on life. It really hit home that something good had come out of this tragedy.” – Amy, Donor Mother
Legislation and Policy Impact
The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, enacted in 1968, provides the legal foundation upon which organs and tissues can be donated for transplantation as a gift. The donor registries for our region are a confidential, first-person authorization list of a person’s decision to give the gift of life. By registering their decision, a person is giving hope to those awaiting lifesaving and healing transplants.
Both state and federal laws and regulations provide a safe and fair system for allocation, distribution, and transplantation of donated organs. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is the federal agency that oversees the organ transplant system in the United States. The U.S. Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) in 1984 to address the organ donation shortage and improve the organ matching process. NOTA then established the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to maintain a national system to match organs and individuals.
Donor Alliance is the federally designated Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) for Colorado and most of Wyoming. It is one of 56 unique organizations across the country responsible for the evaluation, recovery, preservation, and transportation of organs for transplantation. In addition to its responsibilities as an OPO, Donor Alliance also helps save and heal lives through tissue donation. Every year, tissue transplants provide lifesaving and healing hope to tens of thousands of people suffering from disease, injury, trauma, or blindness. Donor Alliance is also unique in that it manages the Donate Life Colorado and the Donate Life Wyoming donor registries, which are symbols of the cause.
Psychological and Social Aspects
For donor families, they can find solace in the knowledge of their loved one’s life-saving legacy. For instance, successful heart transplant recipients enjoy higher energy levels, a better quality of life, and the blessing of living longer.
Costs associated with recovering and packaging organs and tissues for transplant are never passed on to the donor family. The family may be expected to pay for medical expenses incurred before death is declared and for expenses involving funeral arrangements.
Becoming an Advocate for Organ Donation
Donor Alliance advocates are the heart and soul of its efforts. They inspire the public about the importance of registering as organ and tissue donors in Colorado and Wyoming. Donor Alliance relies heavily on volunteer participation to make its programs possible, from grassroots advocacy to public outreach through education and awareness events. Advocates help put a face to the cause, sharing their stories about how they’ve been personally touched by the gift of life. Making this connection with the public also helps amplify the importance of becoming an organ and tissue donor and why it’s equally important to share that decision with family members and friends. They support the mission in increasing how many people are organ and tissue donors.
Join Donor Alliance’s “Advocates for Life” volunteer program—it’s comprised of donor family members, transplant recipients, transplant candidates and others who are passionate about supporting organ and tissue donation and transplantation.