A guide to organ donation
Nearly 104,000 Americans are waiting for a life-saving organ, but fewer than 43,000 transplants occurred last year in the United States.
“As you can see, there are a lot of people waiting, but not a lot of donors,” said Cinda Courtney, transplant coordinator at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple.
You can make a difference. It may be difficult to think about, but now’s the time to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, so in the event of your death, others may live.
“Organ donation can give someone new life,” Cinda said.
How do I sign up to be an organ donor?
You can register to be an organ, eye or tissue donor when you renew your driver’s license or through Donate Life. That way, your family will know how to carry out your wishes. One donor can save up to eight lives and enhance more than 75 lives.
Every day, 17 people die waiting for an organ, and every 10 minutes, another person is added to the transplant waiting list. It takes only a few moments to register—and yet it can make all the difference in someone’s life.
The organ donation process
In the event of a medical emergency and you are taken to a hospital, your treatment team is dedicated to saving your life. Only after your treatment team has exhausted all efforts will they consult an outside organization to discuss donation with your family.
To be considered for organ donation, a patient must be on a ventilator and either declared brain dead or have experienced cardiac death. Tissue and eye donation can occur after any death, in the hospital or not.
An organ donation coordinator, unaffiliated with the hospital, will check the state’s donor registry to see if you’re registered as a donor, which serves as legal consent. If you’re not registered, the transplant coordinator will ask your next of kin for consent.
The transplant coordinator will check the national database for people who match your:
- Blood type
- Tissue type
Also examined will be:
- Recipient’s wait time
- Recipient’s severity of illness
- Distance between hospitals
If your family knows someone on the transplant waitlist, they can ask that your gift be directly donated to them. For example, if you have a cousin listed for a kidney, your family can ask that one of your kidneys be directed to that cousin.
Every effort will be made to honor your wishes. However, you and the directed recipient still have to be a match.
In the meantime, you’ll be kept on a ventilator while the transplant team evaluates you as a donor and finds the best match for your precious gift. After recovery, the organs and tissue will then be transported by ambulance, helicopter or airplane to the awaiting recipient.
There is no cost to your family for organ donation.
Which organs and tissues can I donate?
You may be wondering which organs and tissues can be donated. Thanks to medical advances, the list of ways your gift can impact people’s lives is long.
Thousands of Americans are waiting to receive:
For kidney patients, who must go to dialysis for four or five hours three times a week, receiving a kidney gives them the chance to live a more normal life.
“They can go back to work. They can do many of the things they were doing before dialysis,” Cinda said.
But for others, the gift of organ donation is truly lifesaving.
“However, with other organs, like heart, lung and liver,” she said, “there aren’t options like dialysis. For people waiting on the transplant list, organ donation is their only option for living.”
If you’re a match, you may be their only chance at life.
Your gift of life can also help rebuild lives after trauma, injury and disease. You can donate these tissues:
- Middle ear
- Heart valves
Cornea donors help restore the sight of 84,000 men, women and children each year.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, your tissue donation can also help others by:
- Serving as natural dressing for people with serious burns
- Replacing bone removed due to illness or injury
- Rebuilding damaged joints
- Renewing eyesight and hearing
- Saving the lives of children born with heart defects and adults with damaged heart valves
Better tools make it easier
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