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How Does Organ & Tissue Donation Work?

Gift of Life coordinates the recovery of organs and tissues for transplant. The complex process involves collaborating with highly skilled medical professionals at many different levels.

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Fast facts about organ and tissue donation!

Working in partnership with healthcare teams and other medical professionals, we provide extensive and compassionate services to help ensure every opportunity for donation and transplantation.  This is essential as only about 2.5 percent of all patients die in a manner that allows for the possibility of a life-saving organ donation.

Decision to Donate

The process begins with the decision to say “yes” to life-saving donation.

You can make that decision now by registering to become an organ and tissue donor.  Register now!

Donor Identification

When hospital professionals have exhausted all treatment options and  make the final determination that a patient with a severe brain injury has no chance for recovery, they are skilled in recognizing there may be a possibility for organ donation. This most often occurs when a series of test take place to determine the patient meets brain death criteria and can also occur when a family decides to withdraw treatment.

All hospitals are required to contact Gift of Life with any death of a patient. Gift of Life will then evaluate the patient’s chart, medical history and other criteria, and consult with the medical team, to determine if the patient can be a donor.

Authorization Process

If the circumstances surrounding the patient’s death indicate they may be able to be a donor, a Gift of Life transplant coordinator meets with family. The coordinator offers support to the patient’s family or next of kin and engages the family in a donation conversation that provides them with full information on the power, meaning and life-transforming nature of the donation decision, shares questions that other families of potential donors commonly ask, and answers any questions the family may have about any aspect of this process.

In cases where the patient is a registered donor, the coordinator counsels the family on the process of organ recovery. If a patient has not previously given authorization for donation, the patient’s next-of-kin must authorize to the donation. The transplant coordinator explains to the family the life-saving opportunities of organ and tissue donation and answers their questions. Once the family authorizes donation, the coordinator begins the important work of coordinating the donation process.

Donor Evaluation

After the authorization to donate is received, the coordinator reviews the patient’s medical history for information important to determining which organs and tissues are suitable for transplant.

A hospital team maintains the patient to ensure the organs stay healthy for transplant.

Matching donors with recipients

Gift of Life begins the process of matching the potential donor with a candidate on the list of patients awaiting transplants maintained by the federally regulated United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

The list of individuals awaiting an organ transplant is sorted by a patient’s medical urgency, degree of match to the donor, time on the waiting list and geographic location. The list does not reference race, gender, age, income or social status.

Preparation and Transplant

The transplant coordinator arranges the arrival and departure times of the surgical recovery transplant teams and is present to coordinate the entire recovery process.  

Transplant recipients are notified by their respective transplant centers and instructed to arrive at the hospital to prepare for transplantation.

Transplant Surgeons perform life-saving transplants.

Once the organ recovery is complete, the donor family can make final arrangements with a funeral home. Typically, there are no special needs involved for the funeral home after organ and tissue donation.

Family After-Care Services

Gift of Life offers post donation services for family members, including writing letters with general information about individuals who received their loved one’s donated organs and tissues. Letters are also written to the physicians and nurses who helped care for the donor at the area hospital.

Also, our Family Support Services (FSS) department provides information and programs for donor families, including grief resources, counseling, and opportunities to meet with other donor families and recipients.

These services are provided by clinical social workers who specialize in helping individuals and families through the loss of a loved one.

Living Donor Transplants

Although the majority of organ donations take place after death, some organs can be donated from living donors. With more than 115,000 people on the transplant waiting list, living donation allows more patients to be transplanted and gives other patients on the waiting list a better chance of receiving a transplant from a deceased donor. Learn more about living donor transplants.

Donate Organs and Tissues to Advance Medical Discoveries

Gift of Life Donor Program works closely with Humanity Gifts Registry in our region to ensure anyone who wishes to be an organ and tissue donor and also donate his/her body for medical research will be able to do so. Learn more here.

Understanding Brain Death

Most deceased organ donation cases occur after the patient has been declared brain dead. Brain death occurs when an individual has suffered complete and irreversible loss of all brain function and is clinically and legally dead. Learn more about brain death.

Test Your Knowledge Quiz

Think you know all there is to know about organ and tissue donation?  Test your knowledge with this quick quiz to see if you are a Donation Champion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions about how organ and tissue donation works?  We’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions about organ and tissue donation.