Understanding Donation



What are OPOs?

Organ procurement organizations, or OPOs, are federally designated organizations that facilitate the recovery of organs and tissues for transplant. OPOs are responsible for honoring an individual's decision to donate (if they have joined a donor registry) and providing compassionate support to families. OPOs also evaluate potential donors for medical suitability and assist with the placement of organs for transplant.

What is "Routine Notification" by hospitals?

All hospitals are required by federal law to contact the OPO in their service area when a patient dies or whose death is imminent. When the hospital calls, OPO staff will determine if the individual is medically suitable to donate and consult the donor registry. This referral process is in place to honor the rights of registered organ and tissue donors and to ensure that a family is able to make a decision about donation when their loved one has not documented their wishes.

What can be donated?

Organs that may be donated after death include the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, and small intestine. Tissues that can be donated after cardiac death include corneas, skin, bone, heart valves, connective tissue and blood vessels. Vascularized Composite Allografts (VCAs) are a new kind of transplant and can include hands, arms and face.

Infographic courtesy of Donor Alliance

How are recipients matched to donor organs?

People waiting for transplants are listed at their local transplant center, and on a national computerized waiting list maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). UNOS is responsible for overseeing organ placement and providing fair and equitable placement of donated organs. When an organ becomes available, several factors are taken into consideration. These factors include blood and tissue type of the donor and recipient, and other recipient information such as weight, medical condition, time spent on the waiting list, and urgency of need. Geographic location is also a factor, as timing is critical and transportation times must be kept to a minimum.

What is the Donor Registry?

When you register as a donor, the information you provide is entered into a database that can only be accessed by an OPO and is only used for determining a donation decision. Joining the New England Donor Registry is considered legal first person consent for donation. You can change your registry status at any time by visiting RegisterMe.org

What is first person consent?

First Person Consent, or First Person Authorization, is legislation that allows individuals to make the donation decision before they die. This decision to donate can be made through a state driver's license process, state identification card or an online registry (like RegisterMe.org). It gives hospitals and organ procurement organizations legal authority to proceed with organ procurement to honor the choice of the deceased to donate.

However, LifeChoice will always work closely with the family of the deceased to provide information and support throughout the donation process.

Can I choose what I want to donate?

By joining the Donor Registry through your driver's license, you are consenting to donate any organs and tissues that are suitable to save or enhance someone's life. If you have specific wishes about what you would like to donate, you can register at RegisterMe.org.

If the hospital staff knows that I am a registered donor, will they work as hard to save my life?

Yes. The primary goal of the hospital staff and Emergency Medical Technicians is to save your life. The team that is responsible for your care is solely focused on doing everything possible to help you.

Is there any cost to the donor or their family for organ and tissue donation?

No. Neither the donor nor their family pays for (or receives payment for) organ or tissue donation. All costs associated with donation are paid by the OPO.

Does organ and tissue donation affect funeral arrangements?

The removal of organs and tissues is performed by qualified doctors and recovery staff in a sterile environment. All donors are treated with respect and care during the entire recovery process. Organ and tissue donation does not interfere with an open-casket viewing.

Do most religions support organ and tissue donation?

Most religions view donation as the ultimate act of charity and an unparalleled gift of generosity and compassion.


Donation Process

Infographic courtesy of Donor Alliance

Types of Donors

Most donated organs and tissues come from deceased donors. Living donors are people who sometimes offer to donate an organ or part of an organ to a loved one, friend or anonymous person. Living donations are coordinated by the transplant center where the recipient is waiting for a transplant.

Deceased Donors

In the case of a patient who has sustained a severe brain injury or neurological event, such as a stroke, every effort is made to save the patient's life. If the conclusion is made that the patient's condition is incompatible with life, the hospital will contact LifeChoice to determine if donation is an option after the patient is declared dead.

Organ donation after circulatory death (DCD) refers to when a patient has sustained an injury or illness and there is no hope of recovery. If the family has made the decision to withdraw therapies, organ donation may be an opportunity once death has occurred.

The most common type of organ donation occurs after brain death. Brain death, a legal definition of death as defined by the Uniform Determination of Death Act, is the irreversible loss of all brain function, including that of the brain stem. A hospital physician, who is not associated with the transplant team, must perform clinical tests to determine brain death. A person who is declared brain dead is dead and there is no possibility of recovery.

While the tests to determine brain death are performed, the patient remains on mechanical support. When a patient is brain dead, the body can only be sustained in this manner for a short period of time.

The Referral

All hospitals in the service area are mandated by state and federal law to notify LifeChoice of all deaths that occur in the hospital. The Organ Donation Coordinator will gather the medical information necessary to determine if the patient is a candidate for organ donation.

An extensive evaluation of all potential donors is performed to determine medical suitability for donation. This includes a thorough review of the hospital chart, a physical examination, and a series of laboratory tests. The patient's next of kin will also be asked to complete a medical social history with the Organ Donation Coordinator. The history includes a series of questions about the patient's health and lifestyle that helps to determine whether or not the patient is eligible to donate.

The Donor Registry

In the event that a patient is a registered donor, the Organ Donation Coordinator will share this information with the family and the donation process will continue. If the patient has not authorized donation on the registry or in another legal document, the patient's next of kin will be asked to make the final decision. Regardless of a patient's or family's donation decision, LifeChoice will offer information, compassionate care and support to the family throughout the entire process.

Organ Allocation

Donor organs are matched to potential recipients based on a number of factors. These include, but are not limited to: blood and tissue type, severity of illness, time on the waiting list, and geographic location. All organs transplanted in the United States are allocated based on criteria established by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).

Organ Recovery

Once all organs are placed for transplant, the patient is brought to the hospital's Operating Room (OR) where the organ recovery will take place. The OR team consists of Surgeons, OR Personnel, Organ Donation Coordinators, and Organ and Tissue Recovery Specialists. The organs are surgically recovered and kept viable until they are transplanted, usually within a few hours.

Tissue Recovery

Once organ donation has occurred, tissue donation may follow. The donation process does not leave the donor's body disfigured and a funeral with an open casket can still be considered. The removal of organs and tissues is performed by qualified doctors and recovery staff.

While organs are transplanted as soon as possible, tissues such as corneas may be transplanted days later, and bone grafts and heart valves may be stored for many years until they are needed. Tissue can be used for life-saving and life-enhancing treatments as well as for elective procedures. Tissue is sterilized and preserved using a number of different patented methods and so may be processed by either a for-profit or a non-profit processor.

Family Support

LifeChoice provides bereavement support and offers mementos, such as locks of hair, handprints, memorial cards and remembrance shawls to all organ and tissue donor families. In addition to these mementos, LifeChoice offers routine correspondence with families, facilitation of communication between donor families and recipients, invitations to special programs and events for donor families, and compassionate support and care.


Donating to Research

In addition to the life-saving and life-enhancing benefits of organ, tissue and eye donation, millions of people can be helped through donating to research. When organs and tissues cannot be transplanted, research provides a viable option for willing donors and their families. Researchers today study disease with the help of donated human organs and tissues. Donated organs in research affect untold numbers of patients who can benefit from the medical advances that result from their use in ongoing studies. Research centers in the United States are in need of donated organs and tissues for studies to advance treatment for asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and many other illnesses.



Understanding Donation
Donation Process
Donating to Research




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