The number of people currently known to be alive thanks to organ transplants has broken 50,000 for the first time.
According to a new report by NHS Blood and Transplant, there are now 50,300 people alive today thanks to organ transplants – more than enough to fill Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and almost enough to fill Liverpool’s Anfield stadium.
More than 36,000 are alive thanks to kidney transplants while almost 4,000 have had successful cardiothoracic (heart or lung or combined heart/lung) transplants.
Meanwhile 9,800 people are living thanks to liver transplants, 1,000 people have been saved with intestinal transplants and almost 2,000 have benefitted from pancreas transplants.
The milestone figure has been reached thanks to record levels of public support for organ donation and improvements in survival rates, the NHS said.
The report also highlights that the number of people receiving a transplant in a single year has reached the record figure of 4,753, an increase of 20% in the last five years.
The increase means that nearly 800 more people a year have their lives saved or improved by transplants than they did five years ago.
The number of people on the NHS Organ Donor Register has also reached a record number, 23.6 million, up by 4.9 million over five years.
Now 36% of the UK’s population is on the NHS Organ Donor Register, compared to 30% five years ago.
What’s more, survival rates continue to improve. An adult receiving the most common type of kidney transplant during the early 1990s had a 66% chance it would still be functioning after five years. The latest report shows adults receiving the same type of transplant five years ago have an 87% chance their kidney is still functioning today.
Many more recipients are also now able to enjoy fuller lives, including starting families of their own.
Julie Melady, 47, from Fishtoft in Lincolnshire, had a lifesaving liver transplant 32 years ago at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for hepatitis when she was aged just 15.
Julie, a mortgage and protection advisor, went on marry husband Stephen and have two children, Billy, 10, and Jasmine, who is the same age as Julie when she had her transplant.
“Someone lost their child but they made the decision that saved my life. That gave me the chance to go on and have children – my donor didn’t just save one life, they produced another two,” said Julie.
“I think things have changed over the years and a lot more people are joining the NHS Organ Donor Register now. If you are happy to donate you should get yourself signed up and let your family know, and take that difficult decision away from them.”
Eleanor Brinkley, aged 8, from Rugby, had a lifesaving liver transplant last summer. She was born with the rare and incurable genetic disorder PFIC-2 (Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis type 2).
Mum Claire, 45, said: “We had a horrendous time on the waiting list.
“You know your child will die without a major operation, then you are told there might not ever be an operation because there are not enough donors.
“She needed tube feeding because her body wasn’t absorbing nutrients. I was told she didn’t have long left with her poorly liver.
“We got the call at 7am in the morning. I sobbed and begged the transplant co-ordinator ‘please let this be the one’. At around 6pm that evening, Eleanor went into theatre.
“Someone amazing gave us all of this and we will never forget them. Because of her wonderful donor, I got to see her first day at junior school, I may see her graduate, celebrate her wedding day, and become a mother herself.”
Despite the record-breaking public commitment to donation, the overall shortage of donated organs remains.
The report reveals 457 people died last year while on the active transplant waiting list. A further 875 people were removed from the list, mainly because they were too ill to undergo transplant surgery. Many of these patients will have died shortly after removal from the list. There are still around 6,400 people currently waiting for a transplant.
Sally Johnson, director of Organ Donation and Transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “More people than ever are agreeing to organ donation and that is saving more lives than ever. This is an immense achievement. It’s amazing to picture all the people now alive today thanks to organ donation and think of all the families and children who have grown up thanks to donors.
“We’re seeing more and more people committing to donation and the good results of our close work with hospitals. Our specialist nurses in organ donation are now almost always involved in discussions with families over organ donation.
“However there is still a long way to go. Around three people still die a day in need of a transplant. Every one of those people who die could be a mother or a father, a daughter or a son, who might be alive today.
“Families tell us donation is a source of pride that helps them in their grieving process. We don’t want anyone to miss the opportunity to save lives. Please join the NHS Organ Donor Register. It only takes two minutes.”
John Forsythe, associate director for Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “I have the privileged job of seeing sick patients returned to full health after a transplant. Sometimes I don’t even recognise people I have known for years because of how their appearance has been totally transformed. More and more people are now going on to lead full lives thanks to the precious gift of organ donation.”
Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price added: “Organ donation transforms and saves lives – these numbers show excellent progress and are a testament to the brilliant work of NHS Blood and Transplant and all those involved. Now we need more organ donors to come forward so everyone requiring a transplant stands the best chance of receiving one.”