Sixty years ago, scientists were on the cusp of a revolutionary scientific breakthrough. In the preceding decades, researchers had had some success transplanting organs in animals, and there had even been a few failed attempts at human organ transplants. Numerous studies showed that human organ transplantation was feasible, and that it would be enormously beneficial to thousands of patients, but nobody had been able to make it work.

Success finally came in the early 1950s, when several kidney transplants within a few years gave new life to ailing patients. In the following decades, doctors learned how to transplant other organs successfully, and they dramatically improved recovery rates. Today, most organ transplants are relatively safe, routine procedures, and transplantation is considered to be the best treatment option for thousands of patients every year.

Unfortunately, doctors and patients now face a new obstacle: The demand for transplants has far surpassed the supply of donated organs. Simply put, there aren't enough organ donors, so patients must wait months, even years, for their chance at recovery.

In this article, we'll look the three major processes involved in organ transplantation: the organ distribution system, the surgery itself and the post-surgery recovery. We'll also explore how scientists and politicians are working to remedy the organ-shortage problem.