Across the country, about 120,000 people are waiting.

Most are waiting for kidneys.

But some need livers, and a smaller percentage need hearts or other organs.

Because of advances in medicine and technology, many of those waiting will live longer and more active lives with transplanted organs.

Over the past 50 to 60 years, the numbers of organ transplants have multiplied several times, and survival rates for recipients are much improved.

Currently, more than 30,000 transplants are conducted in the United States each year.

But modern medicine can’t cure everything. No one has found a way to make supply meet the demand for organs.

That’s why the waiting list is so long.

I recently volunteered at a community event at Botanica in Wichita, helping children pot up little plants. I was teamed up with a volunteer who I learned was one of the 120,000 people awaiting an organ.

I’m not sure how the subject came up, but as we chatted with each other, I learned that he had a chronic health condition that had led to slow deterioration of his kidney function. His name had been placed on the transplant list a few months ago.

He talked about the restrictions on his diet, about how the disease limited his daily activities.

I also learned that he was married with three grown children and a new grandchild.

And that he loved to tell bad jokes and laugh at himself.

It was just a typical encounter with a person any one of us might meet as we go about our routine.

But I started wondering how many of us know people who are on that list, or will be in a matter of months or years.

And I wondered what it must be like, waiting for a call that might not come. Knowing that your life depends on the death — and generosity — of another.

More than 8,000 Americans die every year waiting for organ transplants.

That may not sound like a lot to you.

But more than 20 deaths a day is awfully large when you consider most of the people who die could receive transplants if only more of us would sign up to be organ donors — and let our family and friends know our intentions.

According to a website maintained by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, 95 percent of Americans support organ transplants. But less than half of us have actually registered or signed up to be donors.

To sign up, you can sign the back of your driver’s license. But you also can register online at

You might think that because your family knows your wishes, you don’t need to register or sign the back of your license.

But in times of grief and tragedy, the registration gives medical professionals information they need to start what must be a painful and hard conversation with the family of the donor.

Given that organ donations typically come from people who die suddenly and unexpectedly, having the registration helps ease the way into that conversation for both family and medical professionals.

Some countries have adopted systems that assume everyone wants to donate organs — and unless you opt out, you will be considered an organ donor.

Suggestions that the United States adopt the “opt out” approach have not gained much traction.

Medically, the “opt out” policy sounds reasonable and would be an improvement over the current system. But I admit it seems a little creepy in our culture to take a person’s body parts without their permission — even after death.

Because it appears the United States will continue to use a system of donor registration and family approval, voluntary participation is vital.

Sign up and talk about organ donation with family and friends.

For the thousands awaiting transplants, it could mean a longer, fuller life.

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.