PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – On Friday, the United States surpassed a major milestone. It completed its 1 millionth organ transplant. 

Across the country, doctors, the organ donation network, and nonprofits are celebrating, but they want people to know that the need for organ donation is still great. 

Jackie Wirz, executive director of Donate Life Northwest, put the number of people still on the transplant waiting list into perspective for Oregonians. 

“There are currently more than 106,000 people on the waiting list. What I like to correlate that to is Autzen Stadium and Reser Stadium, both of them full,” she explained. 

Even that still comes short compared to the number of people in need. 

Donate Life Northwest is a Portland-based non-profit that performs outreach and education to promote organ, eye and tissue donation. 

The non-profit is also celebrating another milestone. In summer 2022, the state of Oregon reached 3 million registered organ donors. Wirz said this shows the state is invested in the health and wellbeing of their community.  

“I’m calling this the summer of millions,” she said. 

Still, Wirz feels there’s more recruiting to be done in Oregon and Southwest Washington. 

She finds sharing stories about how organ donation changes people’s lives is one of the most effective ways to convince people to become registered donors. 

One story in particular that really touched Wirz is one about a local girl who was suffering from kidney failure. She’d been on dialysis for several years before she finally received a life-saving kidney. Donate Life Northwest has since watched her grow up into an adult with a successful career. 

“Being able to see that life unfold is truly inspiring,” Wirz said. 

Anyone looking for inspiring stories to share with friends or family members who are on the fence about becoming organ donors can find them at DonateLifeNW.org or at LivingItForward.org

There are two types of organ donation: deceased donation and living donation. 

Deceased donation, which occurs after someone dies, can yield up to eight usable organs and tissue and can sometimes save more than 125 lives, Wirz said. 

People can also donate their blood, marrow, a portion of their liver and a kidney while they’re alive. 

Wirz said oftentimes living donors go on to live full lives with a partial liver or only one kidney. 

“And as part of the process of being a living donor. You get fully checked out medically to make sure that there are no surprises in store and the outcomes the health outcomes for living donors are very, very good,” she said. 

More than 41,000 transplants were performed in the U.S. in 2021, a new record and more than double the transplant rate of 25 years ago. In the Pacific Northwest 780 donors made 1,249 transplants possible in 2021, according to Donate Life Northwest. 

The U.S. does not have a set date for when it aims to meet 2 million organ transplants, but health officials hope they’ll reach it sooner than the first 1 million. With the current pace, that should be possible. More than 500,000 transplants have occurred since 2007. 

“The rate of transplantation has been going up year after year after year,” Wirz said. “So, what we want to do is we want to keep this upward trajectory.” 

For Donate Life Northwest, the next goal is to have some difficult conversations. Wirz wants to focus on how systemic racism has played a role in health outcome disparities and issues facing transplantation. 

The non-profit’s Done Vida Noroeste program is working to educate Oregon’s Latino population about access to resources around donation and transplant. 

Data from the U.S. Office of Minority Health shows disparities in the number of organ transplants performed on Hispanics in 2020 compared to those performed on white people. 

Throughout the next year, Wirz plans to create additional partnerships with other minority groups. She believes everyone should have an equal opportunity to be a donor or organ recipient. 

“Being on the transplant waiting list is like being the sickest you’ve ever been every single day,” she said, “and getting off that waiting list is a new opportunity at health and happiness.”