The kidney is the organ most often transplanted in the U.S., and the number of transplants has more than doubled since the late 1980s. Kidneys, as well as livers, are donated by both deceased and living patients, which is why transplant numbers for these organs are higher than those for hearts and lungs.
In the case of kidneys, transplant numbers started rising more quickly in 2010 – a clear connection to the ongoing opioid crisis in the U.S. In a bittersweet twist of events, younger organ donors dying from overdoses increased the size of the donor pool significantly, since deceased donors can donate both, not just one, of their kidneys.
Similarly, one in six donor hearts in the U.S. is now coming from a person who died from an overdose. Yet, the number of heart transplants has not risen as fast given the fact that more than 80 percent of waitlist patients in the U.S. are waiting for a kidney, while only 3 percent are waiting for a heart.
Few other organs that are not kidneys, livers, hearts and lungs are transplanted at all. The next most common transplant is the pancreas, which was transplanted several hundred times a year in the 2000s and 2010s, though numbers have decreased recently. This happened in connection to falling numbers of diabetes type 1 in relation to type 2, the latter typically not being the right type of patient for a pancreas transplant. Other organs transplanted in the U.S. between 1988 and 2019 include upper limbs, intestines, abdominal walls, faces, scalps, penises and uteruses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.