Do transplanted organs last a lifetime?

Team of surgeons performing a transplant procedure

If you’re suffering from a failing organ, a transplant can restore your life. Transplant recipients grow up, go to school and graduate. They run marathons and run for office. They walk their daughters down the aisle and meet their first grandchildren. They eat meals they can finally enjoy.

That’s the great thing about transplant — you can go back to leading a pretty normal life. As a transplant nephrologist, my best days are when I see a patient before and after their transplant.

And continued advancements in medicine and technology mean transplanted organs are lasting longer than ever — in many cases, several decades.

Just how long depends on the organ and hinges on a lot of factors, some of which patients can control. Here, we’ll break down how long certain transplanted organs may last and what patients can do to keep themselves healthy and extend the longevity of their transplants.

Transplant life by organ

As you look at these, you’ll notice you see “graft half-life.” Many patients get discouraged because they misunderstand this concept. It doesn’t mean that’s all the time the patient has — it means that, if you take 100 patients transplanted today, half of those organs will last longer than the half-life, and half won’t last quite that long.

We caution patients against getting hung up on averages. You can’t predict how long your transplanted organ will last; as evidenced by the 60-year-old kidney, it could be a very long time.


How long transplants last: living donors, 10 to 13-year graft half-life; deceased donors, 7-9 years.

Longest reported: 60 years.

Longest on record at Ohio State: Ohio State is following 35 patients who were transplanted over 30 years ago, including one living patient who received his transplant in 1976.


How long transplants last: when combined with a kidney transplant, about an 11-year graft half-life.

Longest on record at Ohio State: pancreas alone, 27.9 years; pancreas and kidney, 36 years.


How long transplants last: Most patients (75%) will live at least 5 years after a liver transplant.

Longest reported: more than 40 years.

Longest on record at Ohio State: 34.4 years.


How long transplants last: Median survival is greater than 12.5 years and has gotten better each decade.

Longest on record at Ohio State: 32.9 years.


How long transplants last: Based on 2017 data, 7.8 years for a bilateral (both lungs) and 4.8 years for a single. That survival has gotten better each decade.

Longest on record at Ohio State: 18.6 years.

Why don’t transplanted organs last a lifetime?

While transplanted organs can last the rest of your life, many don’t. Some of the reasons may be beyond your control: Low-grade inflammation from the transplant could wear on the organ, or a persisting disease or condition could do to the new organ what it did to the previous one. If you’re young, odds are good you’ll outlive the transplanted organ.

Other factors that could affect the life of a transplanted organ include how long the organ was outside of a human body from the time the organ was procured from the donor and implanted into the recipient (longer is usually worse), whether the donor was living or deceased (living is better) and the health of the recipient.

And some organs are simply more vulnerable than others — lungs are more prone to infection because they’re in constant contact with the outside world.

At the end of the day, we’re fighting biology. We do a good job, but a lot of time, biology wins.

But you don’t have to give up when your organ does. Re-transplantation — that is, another transplant following a previous one — is possible, and it depends on the condition of the patient and how long it’s been since their last transplant. Re-transplants are much more common with kidneys (about 25% of transplants nationwide) than organs such as the heart or lungs (about 2 to 5%).

Ways to extend the life of a transplanted organ

While some factors are outside of a patient’s control, you shouldn’t leave the fate of your transplant to chance. Patient behavior is critical to the success or failure of a transplant. Here’s what you can do:

Keep up with your treatment

No matter the organ, the key to transplant success is what a patient does in the weeks, months and years that follow. That means taking your medications and keeping every appointment, no matter how good you and your restored body are feeling.

The first few years are especially critical. It can be strenuous in the beginning, but once you get further out, it’s easier to do.

Stay on top of diet and exercise

Patients who were disinterested in food or unable to eat may find renewed enthusiasm after a transplant. It can be hard to maintain a healthy diet.

After a successful transplant, all of a sudden your sense of taste comes back. Your appetite comes back. You can put on a lot of weight — and then that can lead to other complications, like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Eating healthy foods in moderation and exercising as approved by your doctor will keep you and your new organ functioning better.

Monitor your overall health

You still have the rest of your body to worry about, so continue to see your primary care physician for regular cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes monitoring as well as other health maintenance.

Don’t forget yearly skin exams and cancer screening too. There may be a time when your transplant isn’t your primary health concern.

Don’t fall into bad habits

Especially if those habits, such as smoking, drinking, poor diet or lack or exercise, led to organ failure in the first place, now’s the time to embrace your second chance and start making changes.

Consider becoming a Buckeye for Life through organ donation

Learn more


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