March 29, 2023

A Glimpse into an Organ Transplant Recipient’s Journey

Written by: Kelley McClellan
When you ask an organ transplant recipient about their story, it will be completely unique from another story you may hear. Every recipient goes through unique challenges to receive the ultimate gift. Organ transplantation is a highly collaborative effort among organ procurement organizations, transplant surgeons, transplant nurses, social workers and many more. In 2022, the number of organ transplants increased to more than 42,800, according to the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), a federally designated nonprofit organization that is dedicated to ensuring the national transplant system in the United States has patient equity and safety top of mind along with efficient stewardship of the gift of life.  

Initially, the first step to receiving a transplant is to get on the national transplant waiting list. All potential recipients who do not have the option of having a living donor usually wait for some length of time because there are not enough heroic donors to meet the need. The waiting list is essentially a computer database that houses medical information on every patient who is waiting for any type of organ transplant in the United States and Puerto Rico. The ranking is not based on all other patients waiting for the same organ you need. Also, a potential recipient does not move down or up each time someone else receives their transplant. It is highly unlikely that any organ recipient will wait the exact same time for their transplants. UNOS does not notify patients when they have been added to the list. Their transplant center shares this information and answers any questions about their status. 

Here is a brief synopsis surrounding the steps it takes to get on the national waiting list: 
  1. Your physician must give you a referral. 
  2. You must contact a transplant center after this referral. It is best to learn as much as possible about the 200+ transplant programs in the United States and choose one based on your needs (finances, insurance, location and even support group availability). 
  3. Schedule an appointment with your chosen transplant center for an evaluation and find out if you are a candidate for transplant. 
  4. During the evaluation, ask questions about their program and team. 
  5. If the transplant center’s team determines that you are a transplant candidate, they will initiate the process to add you to the national waiting list. 

Although this may be the first glimpse you have had into this process, there are many Nevadans who have had real life experience. Whether it was as a potential recipient themselves or the caretaker of a loved one who needed the gift of life, their stories of hope and strength are powerful. 

Carla 3
Meet Carla. In 2005, she was diagnosed as being insulin resistant, which meant her body’s cells were not responding normally to insulin. Carla tried her best to take care of herself, but as a single mother, she had multiple jobs where she worked long hours. After a few years, her health continued to decline, and she developed diabetic retinopathy which is an eye illness that causes blindness. Carla stresses that the irony in all of this is that diabetes is completely silent. Her main symptoms were feeling hungry, thirsty and tired. It was so bad at one point, that both of her kidneys were functioning at less than 3%. Carla’s health drastically changed in October of 2020, and she began retaining a lot of water. Her longest hospitalization was one month. Unfortunately, after finally being listed for transplant, her life has gotten harder. Carla must have dialysis treatments three times a week. After each session, she is so sore and tired that the only thing she can do is stay in bed all day. Her diet is so strict that she is only able to eat a few types of food and drink two glasses of water a day. There is not a single moment that Carla does not think about life after receiving the ultimate gift. She wants to live fully again. The only thing that can save her life is a kidney transplant and she hopes to receive her second chance from a heroic donor.

Carla 1
Inspired to bring hope to those that are waiting like Carla? Simply say ‘YES’ today by registering here