2021 was a record breaking year for organ donation

Published January 28, 2022 in Blog

As a two-time kidney recipient, Shenelle Harris knows how precious the gift of life is. “I don't have the words to thank my donors and their families for this life-saving, life-altering, and life-changing gift that they have blessed me and my family with,” she says. “The future is awesomely mind-blowing. Since my transplants, I’ve had a career, earned a degree, and saw my first grandchild be born. That is something I never dreamed of and that's all due to the graciousness of organ and tissue donation.” In 2021, over 41,000 people got their own life-changing gift just like Harris.

It was another record-breaking year for organ donation as 2021 saw the most lives ever saved in one year. According to preliminary data from United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which serves as the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network under federal contract, in 2021, 41,354 organ transplants were performed in the United States, an increase of 5.9 percent over 2020, which was previously the record. It’s the first time the annual total exceeded 40,000 transplants.

“We are gratified that transplantation continues to increase substantially and meet the needs of many more people with organ failure, despite ongoing challenges to healthcare relating to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Matthew Cooper, M.D., FACS, president of the UNOS Board of Directors. “This speaks to the dedication and collaboration of donor hospitals, organ procurement organizations, and transplant hospitals striving to ensure every opportunity to give the Gift of Life is pursued and celebrated.

“As always, we are indebted to the many thousands of people who make these transplants possible through the selfless gift of organ donation. And we are reminded daily of our need to help the tens of thousands of men, women, and children continuing to await a lifesaving transplant.”

Kidney, liver, and heart transplants are the three organ types most commonly transplanted, and all three set annual volume records in 2021 as well. There were totals of 24,669 kidney transplants, 9,236 liver transplants, and 3,817 heart transplants. Liver transplant totals have set annual records for the past nine years, and heart transplants have set a new record each of the past 10 years.

A total of 13,861 people became deceased organ donors nationwide in 2021, representing the 11th consecutive record year for deceased donation and an increase of 10.1 percent over 2020.

Locally, Mid-America Transplant continued to have a huge impact through its mission with 706 transplanted organs by 258 organ donor heroes. In addition, they had 647 domestically distributed corneas and 2,245 tissue donor heroes. 

“We are once again grateful for the opportunity to see last wishes become living legacies”, Mid-America Transplant’s President & CEO, Diane Brockmeier. 

There’s always more that can be done with organ donation
“This news serves as a reminder that no matter what challenges we face as a nation, our community of doctors, patients, donor families, hospitals, organ procurement professionals, and advocates are dedicated to building on past successes to save even more lives. But there is always more work to do,” says Cooper. On Dec. 17, 2021, there were 106,962 men, women, and children on the waiting list for a transplant, which is the lowest it has been since 2009. The list topped 124,000 at its height in 2014. “Every one of us has the potential to save multiple lives by registering to be an organ, tissue, and eye donor,” he added.

Each year, the incredible generosity of donors and their families touches the lives of thousands of people in need. Donor families and transplant patients need your support. By registering as an organ or tissue donor, you can bring hope to patients and families who are holding out for a miracle. Sign up for the donor registry, and increase the chance that 2022 is another record-breaking year in organ donation.