Experts think one solution to the organ donor shortage may be to encourage more people to be living donors to a stranger.
Since 1988, only 1,509 people have done so – 97 percent of those were kidneys.
"More and more people are donating anonymously but it's not enough," says Ruthanne Leishman, who matches living donors with recipients at The United Network for Organ Sharing.
"A lot of people don't even know they can," she says.
The ones that do are "very unique, incredible and selfless individuals," she says. "It takes a very special person to do this."
But the recovery is relatively easy. Though it varies from person to person, for most, after a couple days in the hospital, the patient continues recovering in bed at home for a couple of weeks. A person can live with a single kidney with no meds and no limitations.
In honor of National Donate Life Month, here are four stories of people who donated organs to total strangers:
A NEW BEGINNINGHallie Twomey never thought she'd be an organ donor.
Then her 20-year-old son, CJ, killed himself in April 2010.
"Life has never been the same since," says Twomey, 44, of Auburn, Maine. "All of a sudden I had a different perspective on organ donation."
She and her husband, John, donated CJ's organs but felt like she had to do more.
"I knew I was never going to be healthier than I am now so I started to go through the process of donating a kidney," she says.
It's a decision she has not regretted.
"Not only did I give life to someone else, but my life has changed as well," Twomey says.
"My decision was partly driven out of intense sadness," she says, "but even if my son hadn't taken his life, I still would have done this."
As an added bonus, she will get to meet the person who got her kidney later this spring.
"It's the icing on the cake I didn't think I even needed or wanted," she says.
IT BEGAN WITH A DREAM
Courtesy of Curtis Hendrix
"It was so vivid," says Hendrix, now 24, and in his last semester of school at The University of Akron in Ohio.
"I woke up in the morning and just knew I had to pursue it," he says.
Six months later, during his three-week winter break from college, Hendrix had the surgery.
"They asked me if I had anyone in mind to donate to," he says. "I told them, 'Nope. Just give it to anyone on the list.'"
And that's exactly what he did.
"If I had the chance to do it over again, I would," he says.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER
Courtesy of Maureen Harris
She was in the waiting room of the hospital where her daughter was recovering from transplant surgery.
"I saw the family of the person her kidney was going to," says Harris, 71, of Cedar Knolls, N.J.
She was 70-years-old at the time and wanted to make sure her age wasn¹t going to be an issue.
"After a ton of tests the doctors told me I was perfectly healthy," she says.
Only a few months after the surgery she was back to playing paintball with her grandson and plans to go skydiving soon.
"I feel fantastic," she says.
Now, Harris spends two days a month at Liberty Science Center talking to high school students about her experience.
"Through Skype we show them a live kidney transplant surgery," she says. "We need to educate people."
WORK BECOMES PERSONAL
Courtesy of Leigh Searcy
After she finished the interview, she sat in the car with her camera man and said, "I think I want to see I would be a match for him."
She wasn't – but she decided to become a donor, anyway.
"I just thought because I was healthy and I could be a donor, why not be?," says Searcy, 44.
She never met the person she was paired with but heard she is doing well.
"I grew up with giving back so this was just second nature to me," she says.
As an added bonus, a viewer who saw her story about the veteran stepped forward and was a match.
"I want people to know it's really easy to make this sacrifice," she says.
Know a hero? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine