History of Transplant
For years, scientists had the idea of replacing a diseased organ with a healthy one from a living or diseased donor. However, there was a problem with this because the body is not receptive to foreign tissue. This means that the immune system guards against any invasion of bacteria, viruses, and dangerous substances so when a new organ is placed inside the body, your immune system will see it as a foreign invader and reject it. During rejection, white blood cells attack and destroy this unknown tissue, making it impossible to survive in the environment. After years of failure, scientists discovered that rejection did not occur when the donor and recipient were identical twins. The genetic similarity prevented the immune response. In 1954, Joseph E. Murray used this concept and accomplished the first successful kidney transplant between identical twins in Boston.
Despite the success, it wasn't a breakthrough since few people have an identical twin to rely on for organ donation. Finally, in the late 1960's, doctors figured out a way to perform transplants between non-relatives by using immunosuppressant drugs, which suppresses the recipient's immune response. "After many trials and much improvement, transplantation surgery has become a routine surgery and far less risky than in the past." (Stephanie Watson, Howstuffworks)
Once surgeon’s got the process down, survival rates rose and it’s now possible to transplant hearts, kidney’s, livers, pancreas, and the small intestine, not to mention "nonessential" parts of the body like eyes, face, hands, etc. There’s not an age limit for organ donation. A patient's medical history is more important than the age of the donor and if a patient has good health and a functioning organ, the donor could be as young as a few days old to a 90 year old adult. However, any presence of active cancer, HIV, or infection would absolutely rule-out any organ donation. Organ donation does not disfigure the body or delay funeral arrangements and they have an 80-90 percent success rate. Also, there’s no charge to the donor family as all hospital costs are paid for by the Organ Procurement Organization.