Donate Life America is a nonprofit organization with the aim of increasing the number of donated organs, eyes and tissues available to save and heal lives in the US. Along with its partnering organizations, Donate Life America established National Donate Life Month, observed each year in April, to raise awareness about donation, encourage Americans to register as organ donors and honor those that have saved lives through the gift of donation.
The need for organ donors is critical. There are more than 100,000 men, women and children awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant in the US. Twenty people die every day on average because an organ was not available in time to save them. Every 10 minutes, another American is added to the national organ transplant waiting list.
And while 95 percent of Americans are in favor of organ donation, only 58 percent are registered as donors. One donor can save up to eight lives and heal as many as 75 people through organ and tissue donation. Donate Life Month is a great time to learn more about organ donation and consider registering as a donor if you aren’t already.
Organ donation is the process of surgically removing an organ or tissue from one person, the donor, and transplanting it into another person, the recipient. The recipient needs the new organ because his or her own organ has failed or been severely damaged by disease or injury.
In most cases, organs, eyes and tissues are donated by deceased donors. Among the organs and tissues that can be donated and used for transplantation are the liver, kidneys, pancreas, heart, lungs, intestines, corneas, skin, bone, bone marrow, heart valves and connective tissue.
You can also donate certain organs and tissues while you’re still alive. In fact, more than 6,500 living donor transplants were performed in 2021, an increase of 14.2 percent over the 2020 total. As a living donor, you can donate one of your kidneys, one liver lobe, a lung or part of a lung, part of your pancreas or part of your intestines.
You may also be able to donate certain tissues while alive. These tissues include skin after surgeries such as a tummy tuck, bone following a knee or hip replacement, healthy cells from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood and general blood products, including red and white blood cells and platelets.
How you die affects your ability to donate. Of the 2.2 million people who die each year, only about 2 percent of them are able to be organ donors. In most cases, people are evaluated for organ donation after they’ve suffered extensive head injuries from a car accident, stroke or brain aneurysm and have been declared brain dead.
Doctors run multiple tests to determine brain death. A person who is brain dead has no brain activity, can’t breathe on their own and has no chance for recovery of brain function. The person’s heart is kept beating by mechanical ventilation, which keeps blood and oxygen flowing to the organs.
Donation may also be done following cardiac death. A person may experience cardiac death if they suffer a devastating and irreversible brain injury, are being kept alive by machines and their family members choose to withdraw life support. When the person’s heart stops beating, the doctor declares him or her dead.
After the donor is declared dead, any organs and tissues deemed suitable are recovered. Tissues such as bone, corneas and skin are recovered following the removal of the organs.
Once the organs and tissues are recovered, basic information about the donor is provided to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The UNOS computer then matches the donated organs to potential recipients based on blood type, body size, medical urgency and length of time on the waiting list. In matching the pancreas and kidneys, genetic tissue type is also considered.
Removing organs from the donor is done carefully, skillfully and respectfully. It does not affect the donor’s appearance or preclude an open-casket funeral.
Anybody can become an organ and tissue donor. Most health conditions do not prevent donation, and age is not a factor. The medical professionals determine which organs and tissues can be recovered and transplanted to save or heal other people in need.
You can register as an organ donor through the department of motor vehicles (DMV), online with your state registry or even on your iPhone via the Health App. Be sure to share your wishes with your family members, physicians and legal representatives so they know what to do at the time of your death and won’t be burdened with a difficult decision.
Won’t you consider becoming an organ donor? Your decision could save the lives of up to eight people and heal 75 others.