There are several benefits to living-donor transplants. "Recipients don't have to wait as long to get an organ, so they're healthier and more likely to survive," explains Randall Rosenblatt, MD, medical director of the University of Texas Southwestern/St. Paul University Hospital lung transplant program. "The transplant organs also spend less time outside the body - often minutes instead of hours - so they're more viable. And finally, the organs are often donated by family members, so there's a better chance of a close match."
The number of living-donor transplants is increasing dramatically. The first live liver donation was done in 1989. Last year, there were 371 (compared to 4,579 transplants from deceased donors). And living donors now account for almost 40 percent of all kidney transplants - 5,256 out of 13,332 last year in the U.S.
Following the failure of the first generation of artificial hearts in the 1980s, cardiac transplant surgeons took a step back. Those early models often triggered deadly blood clots and were prone to infection, making them too risky to be practical.
In the years since, thousands of patients have received what are called left ventricle assist devices. With the patient's own heart still in place, the LVAD does the hard work of pumping life-giving blood throughout the body. Not a permanent solution, the assist pump serves as a bridge to keep the patient alive until a transplant heart can be found. The device also helps patients heal so they're better able to survive the rigors of a transplant when a new heart does come along. But the devices can't be implanted into the chest because there's no room. And placing them in the abdomen or even outside the body increases the risk of infection.