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Matching Organs

Under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Services & Resources Administration (HRSA), United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) maintains a centralized computer network called UNetSM. Transplant professionals can access this computer network 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

UNet electronically links all transplant hospitals and organ procurement organizations in a secure, real-time environment. Because UNet uses the Internet, it allows access to all these transplant professionals. However, in order to protect the confidential medical data, all users must use have a secure password.

Matching Donor Organs With Transplant Candidates

When a deceased organ donor is identified, a transplant coordinator from an organ procurement organization accesses the UNet system and enters necessary medical information about the donor. The system uses this information to match the medical characteristics of the candidates waiting against those of the donor. The system then generates a ranked list of patients who are suitable to receive each organ. This list is called a "match run." Factors affecting ranking may include:

  • tissue match
  • blood type
  • length of time on the waiting list
  • immune status
  • distance between the potential recipient and the donor
  • degree of medical urgency (for heart, liver, lung and intestines)

Organ Allocation

The organ is offered to the transplant team of the first person on the list. Often, the top transplant candidate will not get the organ for one of several reasons. When a patient is selected, he or she must be available, healthy enough to undergo major surgery and willing to be transplanted immediately. Also, a laboratory test to measure compatibility between the donor and potential recipient may be necessary. If the organ is refused for any reason, the transplant hospital of the next patient on the list is contacted. The process continues until a match is made. Once a patient is selected and contacted and all testing is complete, surgery is scheduled and the transplant takes place.

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