WASHINGTON -- Organ donations from the living reached a record high last year, for the first time outnumbering donors who are dead. With waiting lists growing, more than 6,400 people gave away a kidney or a piece of their liver.
For more than a decade, the numbers of organs donated by the living have been growing more quickly than those given after death as desperate patients have turned increasingly to families or friends.
In 2001, the number of living donors jumped by 13.4 percent, on top of a 16.5 percent increase a year earlier, the government said Monday. By contrast, donations from dead people inched up by just 1.6 percent.
Surgeons across the country routinely suggest now that patients look for donors rather than rely on a growing waiting list.
In the past, a patients facing a wait of a year or two for a kidney would resist asking family or friends for fear of putting them through a painful procedure with medical risk, said Dr. Jeffrey Punch, a kidney surgeon and chief of the University of Michigan Medical Center's transplant division.
"Now that they're thinking about five or six years, they're more willing to accept it," he said.
'I should help'
Rick Palank decided to donate a kidney after hearing about his boss' deteriorating health. He said his boss never suggested it, but after hearing that no one in the family was a match, Palank volunteered, even though the two are not particularly close or friendly outside the office.
"I was sitting there thinking, 'Wow, this guy looks terrible. I've had perfect health, and this guy's had all these problems. I should help him,"' said Palank, 55, of St. Louis, who donated a kidney last month and was out of the hospital a day later.
Last year, there were 6,081 donor cadavers. Each can give several organs, so dead people still enable about three out of four transplants.