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US sets world record by recording 40,000 organ transplants in 2021

Organ transplants
Posted at 4:14 PM, Dec 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 16:15:02-05

The U.S. broke a global record in 2021 by performing more than 40,000 organ transplants in a single year.

The world record comes a year after the pandemic shut down living donor transplants for two months. Thankfully, those numbers are up in 2021.

"Forty thousand is a big number and we kind of lose account of the fact that those represent individual lives," said Dr. David Klassen, the chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Among those 40,000 lives is Darrell Smith. He served as a trooper with the South Carolina Highway Patrol for 19-and-a-half years. Those years were filled with more monumental moments than he could have ever imagined.

"The Charleston Nine, those nine victims that [were] killed at Emmanuel church in Charleston, we performed some of the funeral ceremonies for that group," Smith said. "I participated in the removal of the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds."

In 2020, Smith was at the height of his career. He was assigned to hurricane duty when he got an alarming, life-changing call from his doctor.

"He said, 'Your reading went up to like an 11.' I said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'You need to be on dialysis,'" Smith said.

His blood work showed signs of rapid kidney failure. The doctor gave him two treatment options.

"You put a catheter in your stomach, and you do it every night for nine hours," Smith said.

Smith endured months of intense dialysis treatments, which eventually forced him to hang up his badge and retire from the force.

He mostly kept what he was going through to himself until a doctor encouraged him to share his story on social media. The response was overwhelming.

"That very next night, I was getting all kinds of phone calls, people praying for me," Smith said.

Among those who saw the message was John Dorroh, Smith's former classmate in the police academy and a state transport officer for the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.

"I told him I started the process. I sent him a message told him that if I was a match, he could have it," Dorroh said.

After weeks of filling out paperwork to become a living donor, Dorroh called Smith with exciting news.

"He said, 'I got my phone call last night, and they told me that I was a perfect match for you, and I'm going to give you my kidney.' I was like. 'Oh my gosh!' I was in shock," Smith said. "We just celebrated, talked and just cried."

"Seeing what he was going through every night with dialysis, I knew he'd take care of it, if you were to give him a kidney and do what he was supposed to," Dorroh said.

In May, Dorroh and Smith went through the kidney transplant operation together, becoming a part of a historic transplant milestone.

"I've never even thought about being a living donor," Dorroh said. "It wasn't until I saw the process that was going on with Darrell and what he was going through."

Seven months out from the successful operation, the brothers in blue share a bond for which Smith says he will forever be grateful.  

"In the middle of the night, I think I called John, crying, teary-eyed and said, 'Man thank you for giving me back my life, you just don't know how much of my life you gave back to me,'" Smith said.

Smith is now paying that gratitude forward to give other patients waiting for a transplant the same hope.

Even with such a huge milestone, the United Network for Organ Sharing says at least 100,000 Americans are still waiting for a transplant. For more information on how to become a living donor, click here.