The process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person (donor) and placing it into another person (the recipient) is organ donation. An organ transplant is necessary when the recipient’s organ has failed or has been damaged by injury or disease. Organ transplantation is a great advance in modern medicine. Over 75,000 men, women, and children await life-saving organ transplants. Sadly, the need for organ donors is much larger than the number of people who actually donate. In the United States approximately 17 people pass away waiting for an organ. There is no cost to the donor’s family or estate for the donation of organs, tissue, or eyes although funeral costs remain the responsibility of the family. The recovery of organs, tissue, and eyes is a surgical procedure performed by experienced medical professionals to prevent disfiguration. Generally, the family may still have a traditional funeral service.
Here is a list of the organs and tissues that can be transplanted:
- Bone marrow
- Heart valves
- Connective tissue
- Middle ear
Most people of any age are potential donors. When someone passes away they are evaluated for donor suitability by reviewing their age as well as their current and past medical history. The Organ Procurement Agency determines medical suitability for donation.
Individuals who wish to be organ donors can complete the following steps:
- Join a donor registry. It is a way to legally give consent for the anatomical gift of organs, tissue, and eyes. Each time you go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), you will be asked if you want to be an organ donor. All you have to do is say “Yes.” You can also join the registry at any time by filling out a blank “Document of Gift” form from the DMV. For any state donor information can be obtained from www.donatelife.org.
- Sign and carry an organ donor card. This card can be downloaded at: www.organdonor.gov/signup1.html.
- Tell your immediate family, health care provider, lawyer and religious leader you desire to be a donor.
*Your decision to be a donor does not affect the quality of the medical care you will receive.*
If I need an organ or tissue transplant, what should I do?
If you need a transplant, you must get on the national waiting list. Visiting a transplant hospital is a requirement in order to be placed on the national waiting list. To find a transplant hospital near you, visit: www.unos.org/members/search.asp. This site is the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), and every transplant hospital in the United States is a member.
At the transplant hospital, doctors will examine you and decide if you are a transplant candidate. In addition to criteria developed for some organ types by UNOS, each transplant hospital has their own criteria for accepting individuals for transplant. If the hospital’s transplant team determines you are a good candidate, you will be added to the waiting list. There’s no way to know how long it will take for you 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.
The organizations that actually manage the distribution of organs and determine the process to receive an organ or tissue are: 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 (OPO) sends medical and genetic information to UNOS. UNOS then generates a list of potential recipients. This list is a computer-generated ranking 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, and 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 including staff and patient availability, and organ transportation. 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. Organs are distributed locally first, and if no match is found, they are offered regionally and then nationally.
A living donation, such as the donation from a segment of a healthy liver or of one healthy kidney from a living human being to another, is arranged though the individual transplant centers according to criteria they have in place.
Contact these organizations to learn more about organ donation and transplantation.
- Coalition on Donation
- National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program
- Office of Minority Health, Office of the Secretary
- The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network
- Second Wind
- Eye Bank Association of America
- Transplant Living
- Transplant Recipients International Organization, Inc
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary’s Organ Donation Initiative
- US Transplant
- United Network for Organ Sharing
- National Kidney Foundation
- National Marrow Donor Program
- Children’s Organ Transplant Association