For many patients in heart failure, a transplant is their only long-term option.

In 2016, for the first time ever, more than 3,000 people in the U.S. received a heart transplant during a single year. Yet more than 4,000 people still wait. So how do doctors go about saving as many of these lives as possible?

How it works

After a thorough evaluation, a transplant hospital registers appropriate candidates for heart transplant with United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that operates the nation’s transplant system. When a donor heart is available, UNOS’ computer system compares medical information about the donor, such as blood type, height, weight and lab results  — with medical information about all of the candidates waiting. It generates a ranked list of all compatible heart candidates.

“Heart transplants have saved more than 65,000 lives since we started sharing organs nationally in 1987.”

Surgeons must transplant the hearts approximately four hours after they recover them, so the sickest patients closest to the donor hospital receive the offers first.

After a hospital accepts a heart for their patient, surgeons travel to the donor hospital to recover the heart. During the return trip another set of surgeons begins operating on the patient, so that they are ready to sew in the donated heart when it arrives.

The difference made

Heart transplants have saved more than 65,000 lives since we started sharing organs nationally in 1987. None of these lifesaving transplants could have happened without organ donors. Donors make life possible after death.

That means more smiles. More birthdays. More moments with loved ones. Go online to learn about organ donation and transplantation and register to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. What could you make possible some day?