Organ Donation: Setting the Record Straight

Twenty-one people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. The shortage of available organs contributes to these deaths. Because common misconceptions about organ donation stops many people from becoming donors, we’re here to provide the facts so you can make an informed choice suitable for your life.

Organ Donation: The Basics

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines organ donation as “the surgical process of providing one or more organs to be used for transplantation into another person. Organ donors can be deceased or living.”

Organ transplant at UVA
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Deceased donors can provide:

  • Kidney
  • Pancreas
  • Liver
  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Intestines
  • Tissue (bones, skin, heart valves, veins)
  • Corneas

Living donors can provide:

  • Kidney
  • Portion of the liver
  • Portion of the lung
  • Portion of the intestine
  • Portion of the pancreas

At UVA, only two kinds of living donations are performed: kidney and liver. The donor can be a family member or a non-related community member. An altruistic living donor is an individual who wishes to donate to a stranger in need without previous knowledge of the recipient. Generally, adult organs get transplanted into adult patients and children to children. However, in circumstances where size isn’t a factor, adult and pediatric organs can be used for larger or smaller recipients.

Doriane Perkins, RN, has held several different positions within UVA for almost 30 years. Currently, she is one of the managers for transplant services and part of a one-of-a-kind team that includes surgeons, nurses, nutritionists, social workers and others.

She strongly believes in public education regarding organ donation and spoke with us to dispel common myths about the donation process.

Organ Donation Myths vs. Facts

Myth: If I’m a donor, the hospital staff won’t work as hard to save my life.

Fact: Regardless of your donation status, the hospital staff focuses on saving your life. Your care team is made up of different clinicians from the transplant team, so there’s no possibility of influence by your donation status. As the transplant surgeon isn’t involved in your care, he/she won’t know anything about you until donation consent has been obtained.

Testing to confirm brain and/or cardiac death is extensive and always completed prior to any organ donation surgery.

Myth: Organs from ethnic minorities aren’t needed.

Fact: Organs aren’t matched according to race or ethnicity. However, transplant recipients have a better chance of receiving one if there is a large population of donors of the same race and/or ethnicity. Compatible blood types and tissue markers found among members with similar genetic backgrounds lessen the chance of rejection after transplant.

Myth: My family will be charged if I donate my organs.

Fact: There’s no cost to donors or their families for organ or tissue donation. Your medical care, and therefore your expenses, stop as soon as you or a family member passes away. The organ procurement organization, the transplant center and the recipient’s insurance assume responsibility for all transplant-related expenses.

Myth: I don’t need to tell my family that I’d like to be a donor because it’s already in my will.

Fact: By the time your will is read, it will be too late for you to be a donor. Donation is very time-sensitive. The longer deceased individuals are artificially sustained, the more susceptible they are to infection and other medical complications. If infection occurs, the organs won’t be viable for donation. If your family doesn’t know about your wish to donate and they do not consent to the donation process, the donation won’t occur.

Myth: I’m too old or too young to donate.

Fact: Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up to be a donor. At the time surrounding death, the organ procurement organization and the transplant center will determine if donation is possible and if so, which organs might benefit a potential recipient. Eyes, corneas and tissue age differently than the heart and lungs and have greater viability.

Why Should I Donate?

There are numerous motivations for becoming an organ donor.

One organ donor can save up to eight lives. Currently, 123,329 people are waiting for an organ — that may be your spouse, child, parent, friend or stranger. Regardless of the donor or recipient, every donation makes a difference.

“Donation is a life-changing and lifesaving gift,” says Perkins. “There are still people who don’t trust the process, but we need to balance fear with facts, and we do that with education.”

Some individuals believe there’s no need for their organs after death, so they want someone in need to have them. Others find organ donation can help loved ones through the grieving process, in that a piece of the deceased individual still lives on.

Other donors find satisfaction in giving people a gift they can’t easily or readily receive. “The reasons people donate are just as different as the people are,” says Perkins. “Humans have some fundamental need and desire to help others.”

UVA’s Collaboration With LifeNet Health

Transplant Team
UVA works with LifeNet Health and UNOS to match viable donations with recipients.

A Virginia-based organ organization, LifeNet Health, has experience in organ procurement, transplant solutions and bio-implant technologies. UVA’s partnership with LifeNet Health helps ensure our patients receive the highest form of care and consideration through the organ donation process.

Anytime a death occurs, there is a period of crisis, confusion and disbelief. Although the deceased may be an organ donor, there is no rush or push for the family to consent to the donation process. LifeNet provides grief counselors and family support coordinators to explain the process in detail and dispel any myths the family might have.

Once death is pronounced, the care team at UVA will work together with LifeNet Health and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) to place all viable donations with a matching recipient.

Interested in Becoming a Donor?

Every state provides access to a donor registry where residents can indicate their donation decision. There are three steps to becoming a donor:

  1. Register with your state donor registry.
  2. Designate your decision on your driver’s license.
  3. Talk to your family and help them understand your wishes about organ and/or tissue donation.

It’s vital that you tell your family about your wishes to donate. They can serve as your advocate and give consent or provide medical information to your care team. You can be a donor without preregistering with your family’s permission. But if you wish to be a donor with no record of consenting and your family doesn’t consent, the donation process won’t occur.

Transplants at UVA

Researching organ donation and transplants? Learn more about UVA’s transplant program, doctors and staff.

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