A 10-year Analysis of Organ Donation after Cardiac Death in the United States

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The greatest challenge facing transplantation today is how to increase the number of organ donors. Patients with severe brain injury who are not brain-dead can donate organs after they are removed from a ventilator and allowed to die, termed donation after cardiac death (DCD).


We analyzed the database of all organs recovered from deceased donors in the United States from 1994 through 2003 to determine DCD trends in the United States. The database was obtained from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).


There were 57,681 deceased donors reported from 1994 through 2003. Of these, 1,177 were donors without a heartbeat (DWHB), 55,206 were brain dead donors, and 1,298 were unspecified donors. At least one organ was transplanted from 1010 of the 1177 DWHB. Organ procurement organizations (OPOs) reported 0–212 DWHB accounting for up to 12.3 percent of deceased donors. There was a steady annual increase in the number of DWHB, but in 2003 there were still 19 of 59 OPOs that recovered no DWHB. A total of 2,231 organs were transplanted from the 1,177 DWHB donors, and another 665 organs were recovered for transplantation but not transplanted. The transplanted organs included 1,779 kidneys, 395 livers, 54 pancreata, 2 lungs, and 1 heart. Organs from DWHB can be successfully transplanted.


Wider use of DWHB has the potential to greatly increase the number of organ transplants performed each year in the United States.

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