Q: My brother-in-law just turned 50 and needs a new heart. We sometimes hear that wealthy people get donor organs quicker than others. Is this true? How long is the usual wait for a new heart?
A: As you are well aware, there is an extreme shortage of organs, including hearts, suitable for transplantation. In 1982, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) was formed to provide equitable distribution of transplant organs. Located in Richmond, Virginia, UNOS is a nonprofit organization that administers the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to facilitate organ matching and placement according to equitable policies based on objective medical criteria such as blood and tissue type, medical urgency of the patient, time spent on the waiting list, distance between the donor and recipient, and so on. There are about 2,500 heart transplants yearly in the U.S., with many thousands more on the waiting list. The waiting time varies from several days to several months or longer.