Enter the next generation of artificial hearts. Like the one recently implanted into a patient in Kentucky, these are designed to improve survival odds. For example, this new heart is fully enclosed in the patient's chest and is powered by a battery outside the body that transmits electrical currents through the skin.

These and other advances may someday lead to a permanent artificial heart. "The Kentucky pump is also being tested as a temporary bridge, but in my own judgement, I think it's a reasonable expectation that one day the device, or another like it, will be approved as a permanent solution to late-stage heart failure," says John A. Jarcho, MD, co-director of the cardiac transplant service at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Rules governing when a patient receives a donated organ are very strict. However, with thousands being added to the waiting lists every year in the U.S. alone, the United Network for Organ Sharing, the umbrella organization that regulates organ transplants under federal contracts, has begun testing some alternative allocation plans, or variances.

Living donor/cadaver exchange: Someone who wants to donate a kidney to a friend or relative but isn't a match can agree to donate to the general waiting list pool. In exchange, the friend or relative moves up the list to receive the next available organ. In the first-ever such case, a 13-year-old Massachusetts boy recently got a kidney after his mother agreed to donate one of hers to a stranger.

Paired donation: Someone who wants to but is unable to donate a kidney can be matched to another person in the same predicament. If each of their organs matches the other person's recipient, an exchange is possible.

"We're testing these variances in only certain areas of the country," says Anne Paschke, a UNOS spokesperson. "But if they increase availability, we may extend them nationwide and to other organs."