US reaches 1 million organ transplants nationwide

The United States marked its one millionth organ transplant Friday afternoon.

It comes after the biggest year on record, with 41,356 transplants performed in 2021.

LifeSource, the organ procurement organization serving Minnesota and the Dakotas, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it is also on track to fulfill the wishes of more donors in 2022 than any previous year.

“There’s a lot that’s going to get better. I’m confident it’s going to get better. I’m very confident it’s not going to take 34 years to do another million transplants in this country,” said Dr. William Payne, medical director at LifeSource and retired University of Minnesota transplant surgeon.

The first successful transplant performed in the U.S. was a kidney transplant in 1954 but the nationwide network tracking organ transplants did not launch until 1988.

More than half of the one-million organ donations in the U.S. happened in just the last 15 years.

There have been major advancements in the field of organ transplant in recent years, such as the so-called ‘heart in a box’ machine 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS covered last year with the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation.

The technology, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May, keeps a donor heart beating in a human-like state outside the body, so it can travel greater distances to reach a recipient.

Payne said there are amped up efforts to recruit new organ donors as well, in the hopes of saving more lives.

“They changed my life. They gave me a second chance at life,” said Anna DuSaire, a 22 year old from St. Louis Park.

DuSaire was born with a liver condition that resulted in her needing a transplant at the age of two.

She was able to receive the liver of another child who died.

“The only thing I really know about my donor is it was a small child, about the same size as me,” DuSaire said. “It means so much because I’m able to live a full life. I’m able to live past two years old. I’m just forever grateful for that decision they made.”

DuSaire recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of her transplant, graduated college and participated in the Transplant Games in San Diego.

Carly Kelly of Woodbury is also grateful for the gift of life, which she has now received three separate times.

She received a kidney from her father at the age of eight, a second kidney transplant in 2019 and a liver transplant in 2020.

“I was on the list and you don’t know when or if you’re going to get a call,” Kelly said. “Before transplant, I could barely walk up the stairs, so it’s just the little things you definitely appreciate. It changed my life and I’m so grateful to be part of the one million.”

LifeSource told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they had more organ donors in the month of July than any other month in their history, ultimately saving 84 lives.

Still, they hope more people will sign up to become donors, noting only 57% of Minnesotans have registered as donors on their driver’s licenses.

“The difficulty with organ transplantation is we don’t have enough organs,” Payne said. “There are some people who wait until they die. They wait years and years and it never comes.”

There are 3,000 Minnesotans currently on the transplant wait list, according to LifeSource. Nationwide, 17 people die every day while waiting.

To learn more about organ donation or sign up to become an organ donor, click here.