How are organs matched?
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is the link between organ procurement organizations and transplant centers. Each time there is a donor, WRTC is responsible for following the rules of allocation developed by the transplant community, and approved by the UNOS Board of Directors. Typically, the allocation for each organ begins with local, then regional, then national patients. There are, however, allocation exceptions for kidneys and livers. When a recipient is a perfect kidney match (where all six blood markers, called antigens, are an exact match) to a deceased donor’s kidney, that recipient will be offered a kidney transplant regardless of location. Liver allocation is dependent on a patient’s medical urgency, or “Status One” category. Patients who are “Status One” are top priority for liver transplantation, therefore, livers are first offered to local “Status One” patients. If there are no local “Status One” patients, livers are then offered to regional “Status One” patients. Once those efforts are exhausted, offers are extended to the regular pool of local wait list patients.
Overall, donors and patients on the wait list are matched by a computerized system that takes into account height, weight, blood group and tissue type, medical urgency and the amount of time patients have been on the wait list. No allocation process is driven by personal or social characteristics such as celebrity status, income or insurance coverage. For current and updated UNOS policies, please visit www.unos.org. The allocation process has many caveats and every patient’s medical needs are different. The Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN) may also serve as a resource for more information.
How to get listed
WRTC does not have a role in listing patients on the national waiting list. Any patient who is in need of an organ transplant due to organ failure, should speak to the appropriate healthcare professionals and contact the appropriate transplant centers to discuss transplant options. Transplant centers establish and follow their own protocols and criteria for potential transplant candidates and evaluations. Once evaluations are completed, the transplant center decides whether or not to accept the patient as a candidate.
Patients can choose to be evaluated at multiple transplant centers. However, they can only be listed on the national waiting list at one transplant center within each UNOS region. It is advised that a patient speak to their transplant center of interest about this possibility.
Writing to your Donor Family
Transplant recipients are encouraged to write to their donor’s family as many families will welcome and appreciate the communication. When a family receives acknowledgement of their loss and is expressed thanks, they are affirmed of their loved one’s gift, offering them comfort and peace during their grief journey.
The decision of when to write is a personal decision and one with no time constraints. It is never too early or too late to express your gratitude for the kind and unselfish gift you received. You are encouraged to write when you feel ready and have positive things to share.
Due to privacy concerns, all correspondence must go through WRTC’s Donor Family Advocates until both parties agree to communicate directly. This means, you will write your letter, then send it to WRTC to facilitate its direction to the donor family.
When writing to your donor family, do not include specific/personal information like your last name or address. Below are a few suggestions to include in your letter:
- RECOGNIZE THE DONOR FAMILY’S LOSS AND THANK THEM FOR THE GIFT
- USE SIMPLE LANGUAGE TO APPEAL TO ALL MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY
- TALK ABOUT YOUR FAMILY, MARITAL STATUS, CHILDREN
- SHARE YOUR TRANSPLANT EXPERIENCE
- DESCRIBE YOUR HEALTH BEFORE AND AFTER THE TRANSPLANT
- EXPRESS WHAT YOUR LIFE IS LIKE NOW THAT YOU RECEIVED THIS GIFT
Most families are happy to receive communication from their loved one’s recipient, but everyone is different. Some families are still grieving, so the idea of communicating back may take some time; others may be proud of the donation but do not wish to correspond.
To help facilitate the communication between donor families and recipients, send your letter in an unsealed envelope. On a separate sheet include:
- YOUR FULL NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE NUMBER AND E-MAIL ADDRESS
- DATE OF YOUR SURGERY AND ORGAN YOU RECEIVED
- NAME OF YOUR TRANSPLANT CENTER
Put both letter in another envelope and mail them to:
- Donor Family Advocates
- 3190 Fairview Park Drive, Suite 700
- Falls Church VA 22042
Transplant Recipients and Social Media
Please do not use social media to contact your donor family until you have written correspondence and mutually agree to direct contact. While you may believe you have found your donor family on social media, mistakes have occurred in the past, creating difficult and painful experiences.
If you receive a letter from your donor family, please be considerate to the author of the letter and not share any correspondence on social media, unless the donor family and you have both signed release of confidentiality forms.