Life-Saving Match: How The Organ Transplant Process Works

CBS Local — Music star Selena Gomez is making headlines after the revelation that the singer underwent a kidney transplant. Gomez’s ongoing struggles with lupus, a disease which causes the immune system to attack your own body, brought on the need for the surgery.

Gomez’s friend Francia Raisa provided the vital organ this summer in a procedure the 25-year-old called, “the ultimate gift and sacrifice.” The news-making surgery is making people ask: if I need an organ, what am I going to do?

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Gomez is one of the lucky recipients who had a friend or family member who was both a medical match and willing to donate. Friends and relatives who want to give their loved one an organ don’t have to wait on the national waiting lists for a transplant. Directed or designated donation is a common practice for many people, especially family members, who can be easily matched with their relative in need.

For those people who don’t have a match available to them, the process is more complicated. According to the government’s Division of Transplantation, patients needing a new organ have to first get a referral from their doctor to have a meeting with an organ transplant hospital. If the patient is found to be a good candidate to undergo the difficult surgery, they’ll be placed on the national waiting list.

Organizations like the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) then go to work finding the best match between patients and donors. The networks look to match people based on need, medical history, height, weight, and even their particular lifestyles.

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“When a donor becomes available, a list is generated within our unit system. We’re looking at information about the donors, information about the candidates, and we find those best matches and create that list,” a systems analyst for UNOS said. “The more donors we have, the more lists we can generate, the more organ offers we can make, the more transplants we make happen, the more lives we save,” she added.

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