How Organ Donation Works
Organ donation is the process of giving an organ or a part of an organ for the purpose
of transplantation into another person.
In order for a person to become an organ donor, blood and oxygen must flow through
the organs until the time of recovery to ensure viability. This requires that a
person die under circumstances that have resulted in an irreparable neurological
injury, usually from massive trauma to the brain such as aneurysm, stroke or automobile
accident. Only after all efforts to save the patient’s life have been exhausted,
tests are performed to confirm the absence of brain or brain stem activity, and
brain death has been declared, is donation a possibility. The state donor registry
is searched to determine if the patient has personally consented to donation. If
the potential donor is not found on the registry, his or her legally authorized
representative (usually a spouse, relative or close friend) is offered the opportunity
to authorize the donation. Once the donation decision is established, the family
is asked to provide a medical and social history.
Once a deceased organ donor is identified, a transplant coordinator starts accessing
the UNet system which is a centralized computer network to indentify a transplant
candidate. The system then generates a rank list of patients who are suitable to
receive the organs. Factors that affect the ranking are:
- Blood Type
- Length of time on the waiting list
- Tissue match
- The time it will take between donor and potential recipient
- Medical urgency
Once the ranked list is generated, the donated organ is offered to the first patient’s
transplant center. However, the first person on the ranked list may not receive
the organ due to several factors which are evaluated before the organ is officially
given to that person. The organ procurement organization selects the appropriate
candidate based on:
- Is the patient healthy enough to be transplanted?
- Is the patient available and willing to be transplanted immediately?
Once the appropriate candidate is located, the organ procurement organization takes
the organ and delivers it to the transplant center where the transplant will be
performed. This entire process must occur very quickly as organs are only transplantable
for a short time period after they’ve been removed.
Organ donations not only come from deceased donors, they can come from a living
donor. Living donation takes place when a live person donates an organ for transplantation
to another person. Organs that come from a living donor are kidney, part of a lung,
liver and pancreas.
After the transplant, the patient will have a long road to recovery. Regardless
of how well the surgery goes, the patient still faces the possibility of the body
rejecting the new organ. Rejection is not good for transplant success because the
body thinks the new organ is a virus or bacteria.