How Organ Donation Works

How Organ Donation Works

For many, the idea of organ donation can be scary or confusing. Various myths about the process can deter people from signing up to give the lifesaving gift of their organs.

Here, we’ll walk you through the 6 major phases of organ donation so you can make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you.

Phase 1: Organ Donation Sign-Up

Organ transplants cannot occur without those who generously sign up to be organ donors. You can elect to become a donor when you apply for or renew your driver’s license, or by visiting your state’s organ donor registry.

NOTE: When you elect to be a donor during the licensing process, you may or may not be asked which organs you’d like to donate. If you are not asked, you can visit your state’s registry to make that determination.

Phase 2: Critical Care and Determination of Death

When a potential donor has a serious accident or illness and is in the hospital, the doctors and nurses responsible for that patient make every attempt to save his life. While some worry that doctors don’t make as much of an effort to do so if you are an organ donor, this is not true.

The priority of all hospital staff is to save the life of the patient.

Once all lifesaving efforts have been taken, the doctors will test for brain death to determine without a doubt that the patient has died.

Keep in mind that not every death is conducive to organ donation. The most viable donors are victims of:

  • Head trauma.
  • Stroke.
  • Aneurysm.

When a patient has died or is near death, the hospital contacts their local organ procurement organization (OPO) and confirms his potential to donate. If the patient is confirmed as a candidate for donation, someone from the OPO will visit the hospital. If the patient had not previously enrolled as an organ donor, the OPO representative will seek consent from the next of kin.

Once consent is received (or the patient is found on the donor registry), the OPO representative will:

  • Get the donor’s medical history.
  • Contact the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to identify a recipient, based on matches for:
    • Blood type.
    • Tissue type.
    • Height.
    • Weight.
    • Location of the donor and recipient hospitals.
    • The patient’s illness and her time on the waiting list.

Phase 4: Organ Transport

Once a viable match has been made, arrangements are made for the recovery of the organs and tissues that will be donated. Highly skilled surgeons then take the donor into an operating room to recover the organs and tissues for transplant*.

The organs and tissues are then rushed to the hospital that is housing the recipient.

* The surgical process of recovering organs involves closed incisions and so do not affect the donor’s ability to have an open casket at her funeral.

Phase 5: Organ Transplant

Once the organs and tissues arrive, transplantation surgery begins right away, as the recipient is typically already in the hospital and is usually in the operating room waiting for the surgery.

Phase 6: Recovery

Recovery time depends on each patient, including factors such as the severity of the illness and type of organ and/or tissues donated. While many recipients feel better immediately after the transplant, others take a little longer to begin feeling normal.

The recipient will work with his transplant team during the recovery process to prevent rejection of the organ, stave off infections, and ensure the proper medications and tests are provided.

Save a Life: Become a Donor Today!

By signing up to be an organ donor, you actually save a life. In fact, the organ donor facts show that a single organ donor can save up to 8 lives.

If you’d like to learn more about organ donation or read personal stories from our team, visit our Organ Donation page.

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