A major shortage of organs for transplants exists in the United States, where a person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes and 20 people die each day waiting for a transplant, federal data show.

During April’s National Donate Life Month, organ procurement and transplant organizations are encouraging people to become educated on how the process works and how they can become either a living donor or designate themselves a donor upon death.

A single organ donor could save as many as eight lives, medical experts say.

“We need more organ donors, but we also need to learn everything we can to help those who receive the gift of a transplant keep their new organ for life,” said Shandie Covington, CEO of the American Society of Transplantation, based in Mount Laurel, Burlington County. “Organ transplantation is a miracle, but it is not necessarily a happy-ever-after.”

About 2,416 people are on wait lists for organ transplants at centers in New Jersey, according to the U.S. Procurement and Transplantation Network, the majority of which are in need of a new kidney.

The society, along with other organizations serving New Jersey residents, such as the NJ Sharing Network, Gift of Life Donor Program and Donate Life, tries to dispel some of the myths surrounding donation that may prevent someone from becoming a donor.

“Some still fear that marking organ donor on their driver’s license may lead to getting less medical care if they are critically injured,” Covington said. “This is definitely not the case. No doctor wants to lose a patient.”

Covington said others may not become donors because of religious beliefs, even though several religions support organ donation, and because of cost concerns. Organ donor families do not get charged for when their dying loved one donates organs, she said.

Living donors can help ill patients by donating a kidney or part of their liver, which they can live without. Organs that come from deceased donors also include the heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines.

Covington said experts are working together to not only close the gaps in waiting times and transplants, but to support more research on how to extend the life of transplanted organs so people do not end up on waiting lists again.

People can become donors by registering at their nearest New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission office or at Donate Life or NJ Sharing Network.

Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe