For many, the organ and tissue donation process may be one they are completely unfamiliar with, even if they are registered donors. Many misunderstandings and myths about how organs and tissue are recovered have been shared throughout social media and even been perpetrated on television for several decades. Today, we want to give you a quick rundown on how the process actually works.
What is organ donation and transplantation?
Organ donation is the process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person (the organ donor) and placing it into another person (the recipient). Transplantation is necessary because the recipient’s organ has failed or has been damaged by disease or injury.
Organ transplantation is one of the great advances in modern medicine. Unfortunately, the need for organ donors is much greater than the number of people who actually donate. Every day in the United States, 21 people die waiting for an organ and more than 107,380 men, women and children await life-saving organ transplants.
What organs and tissues can be transplanted?
Organs and tissues that can be transplanted include:
- Middle ear.
- Bone marrow.
- Heart valves.
- Connective tissue.
- Vascularized composite allografts (transplant of several structures that may include skin, uterus, bone, muscles, blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue).
Who can be an organ donor?
People of all ages should consider themselves potential donors. When a person dies, they are evaluated for donor suitability based on their medical history and age. The organ procurement organization determines medical suitability for donation.
Those with active cancer, HIV or active infection are not candidates for organ donation. People with hepatitis B or C may be donors.
How do I become an organ donor?
Individuals who wish to be organ donors should complete the following steps:
- On your license or ID application or renewal form, you will be asked if you would like to be registered as an organ or tissue donor. Simply check the box marked “YES! I want to be an organ, eye and tissue donor” and you will be put on the Donate Life Donor Registry. You also have the ability to remove yourself from the registry at any point.
- You might join a donor registry. A registry is more than just an expression of interest in becoming a donor. It’s a way to legally give consent for the anatomical gift of organs, tissue and eyes.
- Let your family members and loved ones know you’d like to be a donor.
By becoming an organ donor, does this mean that I wouldn’t be eligible to receive the best medical care possible?
Not at all. Your decision to donate does not affect the quality of the medical care you will receive.
Are there any costs to the organ donor’s family for donation?
There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for the donation of organs, tissue or eyes. Funeral costs remain the responsibility of the family.
Will organ donation disfigure the body?
The recovery of organs, tissue and eyes is a surgical procedure performed by trained medical professionals. Generally, the family may still have a traditional funeral service
If I need an organ or tissue transplant, what do I need to do?
If you need a transplant, you need to get on the national waiting list. To get on the list, you need to visit a transplant hospital. To find a transplant hospital near you, visit the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) and use the search function on the top of the page.
The transplant hospital’s multi-disciplinary team will evaluate you and decide if you are a suitable transplant candidate. In addition to criteria developed for some organ types by United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), each transplant hospital has its own criteria for accepting candidates for transplant.
If the hospital’s transplant team determines that you are a good transplant candidate, they will add you to the national waiting list. You can get on the waiting list at more than one transplant hospital, and UNOS policies do permit “multiple listing.” However, be sure to check each transplant hospital’s guidelines about who will be the primary care provider.
Next, you wait. There’s no way to know how long you’ll wait to receive a donor organ. Your name will be added to the pool of names. When an organ becomes available, all the patients in the pool are assessed to determine compatibility.
What organization actually manages the distribution of organs? What is the process to receive an organ or tissue?
UNOS maintains the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Through the UNOS Organ Center, organ donors are matched to waiting recipients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
When an organ becomes available, the local organ procurement organization sends medical, social and genetic information to UNOS. UNOS then generates a list of potential recipients, based on such factors as:
- Blood type.
- Tissue type.
- Organ size.
- Medical urgency of the patient’s illness.
- Time already spent on the waiting list.
- Geographical distance between the donor and the recipient.
The organ is offered first to the transplant center with the candidate who is the best match. The transplant team decides if it will accept or refuse the organ based on established medical criteria and other factors.
If the transplant center refuses the organ, the transplant center of the next patient on the list is contacted and the process continues until the organ is placed.
What’s involved with becoming a living organ donor?
A living donation, such as the donation of one healthy kidney or a segment of a healthy liver from a living human being to another, is arranged though the individual transplant centers according to criteria they have in place. An independent donor advocate, along with a dedicated living donor multi-disciplinary team, will represent the interests and well-being of the potential living donor.