After Organ and Tissue Donation
Every day in our region, families faced with the death of a loved one are able to look beyond their tragedies to save and improve with lives of others through organ and tissue donation. Making the decision to donate is a life-changing act for families. In this section, you will find information about the process and support offered to you and your family as you navigate this new reality.
- Understanding the Donation Process
- Memorializing Your Loved Ones' Gift
- Gift of Life Donor Quilt
- Donor Recognition Ceremony
- Volunteer Opportunities
When a loved one passes away, the events that transpire afterwards can often be confusing. In trying to understand all the details of what happened, donor families who choose to give the gift of life may not immediately understand everything at first. This section will further explain some of the specifics of what happened when you say “yes” to donation.
Brain Death and Organ Donation
Most deceased organ donation cases occur after the patient has been declared brain dead. This declaration is made after the individual suffered complete and irreversible loss of all brain function and is clinically and legally dead. Mechanical ventilation and medications keep their heart beating and blood flowing to their organs.
In the United States, less than one percent – about 15,000-20,000 – of all deaths are brain deaths. These are usually patients who suffer an injury to the brain resulting from a trauma, stroke or lack of oxygen and are rushed to the hospital, where doctors aggressively work to save their lives but cannot.
Brain death can be confusing, especially for families who are confronted with the sudden loss of a loved one. A brain dead person being sustained on a ventilator can feel warm to the touch and can look “alive.” The heart is still beating and the ventilator is pushing oxygen and air into the lungs making the person's chest rise and fall.
Brain death can be confusing, especially for families who are confronted with the sudden loss of a loved one.
When this happens, families might expect that their loved one can simply be kept on the ventilator in hopes that their condition will improve. But to be brain dead is to be dead, and no improvement or recovery is possible. While defibrillators can be used to "shock" a heart to get it functioning again, there is no such method to jump-start or revive a brain that has been deprived of blood and whose cells have died.
Declaring someone brain dead involves no subjective or arbitrary judgments. Brain death is a clinical, measurable condition whose formal definition emerged after the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Issues in Medicine embraced brain death in 1981, when Ronald Reagan was president.
None of these physicians can have anything to do with organ donation and transplantation; they probably do not even know whether the patient is a potential donor or how the family feels about donation. Physicians, however, often let family members watch as they perform some of these tests because the tests visually demonstrate that, appearances notwithstanding, the person they love is indeed dead.
Organ and Tissue Donation after Cardiac Death
When a person suffers a cardiac death, the heart stops beating. When the blood stops flowing, the vital organs quickly start to lose functioning and their ability to be transplanted declines as time passes.
The option of Donation After Cardiac Death (DCD) may be presented to the families of these patients after it is clear that their loved one cannot survive. Donation in such cases entails taking the patient off the ventilator, typically in the operating room. Once the patient's heart stops beating, the physician declares the patient dead and organs can be recovered.
This method is a return to how organ donation practices began more than 40 years ago, before the acceptance of brain death.
Today, organ donation after cardiac death has increased the donation of life-saving organs – mostly kidneys and livers – by as much as 25 percent in a few areas of the country. In Gift of Life’s region, more than 15 percent of donations are DCD cases.
The gifts that a donor provides to those on the waiting list are unlike any other – and Gift of Life honors that generosity by paying tribute to the donor in many ways.
Gift of Life welcomes any opportunity where donor families wish to pay tribute to their loved ones and their life-saving decision.
Gift of Life can provide materials to your family to showcase your loved one’s generous gift at the funeral services or memorial celebrations. Donor medals, brochures about donation, and Donate Life bracelets are all available free-of-charge to you. Gift of Life can also prepare some discussion points that you can reference, should you chose to include language about donation in your eulogy or obituary. E-mail Family Support Services and they can assist with your request.
In instances where you wish to designate Gift of Life as the recipient of financial contributions, you can include our address and have checks written out to the Transplant Foundation, the charitable foundation supporting the mission of Gift of Life through education programs and events.
You can have all financial donations sent to us directly. Your family will also be notified of any donations sent to us in honor of your loved one. For any questions, contact Donald Knieriem at 215-557-8090 ext 1108 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org,
Gift of Life Donor Program
Attn: Donald Knieriem
401 N. 3rd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Gift of Life Donor Program and Hearts of Gold create memorial quilts to honor the memory of organ and tissue donors. You and your family are invited to participate by creating a "square" in memory of your loved one for the Threads of Love Memorial Quilt.
The quilt, while paying tribute to your loved one, also serves as a beautiful display to reach the public regarding the importance of organ and tissue donation. It is available for display at events, schools, hospitals, museums, libraries, churches and synagogues throughout the region to promote organ and tissue donor awareness.
If you have any questions, please contact Gift of Life Donor Program at 1-800-DONORS-1 ext. 1113 for further information.
Please return your completed square, and a written tribute or description of 250 words or less to:
Gift of Life Donor Program
Attn: Hearts of Gold
401 North 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Please include your name, address, telephone, e-mail and the name of your loved one.
Gift of Life staff and volunteers know that the success of transplantation is directly related to the generous gifts made by organ and tissue donors and their families.
To honor these heroes, Gift of Life along with regional transplant recipients, transplant support groups and area Coalitions for Organ and Tissue Donation organize annual Donor Remembrance Ceremonies throughout the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
At these unique ceremonies, transplant recipients honor the family members of area men, women and children who died and donated organs and tissue for life-saving and life-enhancing transplants. Family members of donors receive the Gift of Life Donor medal of honor.
The most powerful way to spread the word that donation saves lives is through the stories of those who have been touched by it in their lives.
Donor family members have a unique opportunity to share their experience with the community and explain just what their loved ones’ gifts meant and how they benefited those waiting for a life-saving transplant.
We welcome you to join our volunteer base, as there are many different ways to get involved. You can join one of our volunteer groups, that brings together some of your peers who have been through similar experiences.
- Coalitions: Groups for transplant recipients and candidates as well as members of their families, donor family members and others who are interested in volunteering their time to promote donor awareness and the benefits of transplantation. Most programs falling under the Liaisons umbrella take place in the greater Philadelphia region.
- Hearts of Gold: Made up of donor family members, this volunteer group addresses the specific needs and issues of donor family members. The group focuses on how donor families can educate the public about organ and tissue donation as well as acts as a support system for other donor families.
Register to Be a Donor
It’s easy to add the donor designation to your driver's license or state I.D. card. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Sign up today!
Giving Life a Second Chance
Since 1974, Gift of Life Donor Program has helped hundreds of thousands of patients through organ and tissue donation.
Gift of Life works tirelessly to rewrite the stories for the more than 5,600 people in our region waiting for their second chance at life. The gift of organ and tissue donation truly can change someone's life and rewrite their story. How has the Gift of Life rewritten your story? Share with us.