The results of a new JAMA study may double as a call to action for organ donation: More than two million years of life have been saved by solid-organ transplant since the late 80s. These transplants refer to the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, and intestines.  

Researchers analyzed data from The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the Social Security Administration Master File to determine the survival benefit of transplants from September 1987 through 2012. This involved records of more than 1.1 million patients: 533,329 received an organ transplant while 579,506 were placed on a waiting list (and did not receive a transplant). As mentioned, the results showed 2,270,859 years of life were saved, which averages to 4.3 years of life for every patient who received a transplant.

The drawback: Only 48 percent of patients on waiting lists received a transplant over the study’s 25-year period, which researchers suggest is due to a shortage of donors. A note on waiting lists from the U.S. Department of Health and Services: Patients are allowed to register at multiple transplant centers, so you may see a higher number if you count registrations rather than candidates.

However, both the present study and the department agree more people should consider organ donation.

“The need is increasing: therefore, organ donation must increase,” researchers concluded. “We call for deepened support of solid-organ transplant and donation — worthy endeavors with a remarkable record of achievement and a tremendous potential to do even more good for humankind in the future.”

Admittedly, for both potential donors and patients, organ transplants are cause for trepidation. Candidates for kidney transplants, for example, worry they’ll jeopardize (and generally inconvenience) donor’s health and feel unworthy of such altruism. And on the donor side, perpetuating organ donation myths discourage people from checking off that box. (No, your doctor is not less likely to save your life if you’ve elected to be a donor.)

Prior research points a finger toward the obesity epidemic for such a shortage in solid organs, namely for kidney transplants. A lack of kidneys make up 84 percent of all the organ demands in the U.S. and diabetes and hypertension are the two causes of renal failure — both conditions caused by obesity.

Organ transplant and donation have come a long way since the National Organ Transplant Act was passed in 1984. In 2010, researchers from Kings College-London started developing new science that would help prevent rejection of the new organ and extend a donor’s life. As the need for donation grows, all hands are on deck to ensure the waiting list lessens and more lives are saved each year, both patient and donor alike.

Source: Rana A, et al. Survival Benefit of Sold-Organ Transplant in the United States. JAMA Surgery. 2015.