When you first hear about organ, eye and tissue donation, you may have a ton of questions about it. Here are some of the most common ones for teenagers first considering registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor.
Why are Donations Needed?
Sometimes, people’s vital organs stop working. Maybe they never worked well. In either case, if they are good candidates for organ transplant, they’ll be added to the national waiting list. Every 10 minutes a new name is added to the national waiting list for organ transplants, and some people wait years for a life-saving transplant.
While about 30,000 people do get the transplants they need each year, an average of 22 Americans die each day before the organs they need become available.
What Can be Donated?
The heart, lungs, pancreas, liver, kidneys and small intestine are the organs that can be donated. By far, most patients on the waiting list need a kidney transplant. And, did you know that 1 in 20 Americans will need a tissue transplant this year? Donors also give tissues like bones, tendons, skin, heart valves and ligaments; additionally, donated corneas can help some people see again.
How do I Register?
In North Carolina, you can register online here. If you are applying for a learner’s permit, driver's license or state i.d., examiners at the DMV can sign you up.
You can also sign up online here or, if you have an iPhone with iOS10, you can join the national registry through the Health App on your phone!
In North Carolina, you can register as an organ, eye and tissue donor at 16. However, until you are 18, your parents have the right to make the final decision. That’s why, if you are a minor, it’s so important to share how you feel about donation with your family.
Who can be an Organ, Eye and Tissue Donor?
Anyone from babies to the elderly can donate. There are very few medical conditions that would rule anyone out, and medical personnel will review all of them at the time donation is being considered.
The Process of Donation
For deceased organ donation, a donor must be proven to be brain dead or have full circulatory death and must have died on a respirator. Brain death occurs when the brain has permanently stopped working and is determined through a series of medical tests that include among many others: a loss of reflexes, no pupil response and no electrical activity in the brain. Circulatory death is the irreversible loss of function of the heart and lungs. These tests are performed by as determined by several medical professionals. For deceased eye and tissue donation, a donor can die before reaching the hospital, but the following process is the same.
Hospital personnel contact the organ procurement organization (OPO), which then checks the registry for the patient’s name, and dispatches a representative to evaluate the patient as a donation candidate. If the patient is a viable donor, the representative visits with the family. If the patient is registered, then the donation process will occur. If the patient is not registered, then the OPO must obtain family authorization. If the family wants to donate, the OPO counselor stays to coordinate all aspects of the donation, including obtaining a medical and social history of the patient from the family.
UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) then matches the donor’s organs to candidates on the transplant waiting list. UNOS searches for candidates who match the donor’s physical size and blood type, while considering the recipient’s medical status and length of time on the waiting list. The procurement coordinator contacts the selected patients’ physicians and offers the organs for transplantation.
When the surgical teams arrive, the donor is taken to the operating room. After surgery, the funeral home prepares the body according to the family’s wishes.