Hospitals and healthcare professionals serve a critical role in helping people receive the gift of life. You are encouraged to tap into the resources on this page to help navigate the donation process.
Donation and Transplantation: How does it work?
Top 10 things every healthcare professional should know
How many people are in need of organ, eye or tissue transplantation?
Approximately 115,000 men, women and children await lifesaving organ transplants. Sadly, more than 7,000 people die each year because the organs they need are not donated in time.
A cornea donor can restore the sight of two individuals among the more than 40,000 Americans who suffer with corneal blindness. A tissue donor can heal more than 75 individuals in need.
What can be transplanted?
Organs that can be donated include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines and pancreas. Tissues include corneas, islet cells, connective tissue (bones, tendons, cartilage, ligaments) bone marrow, blood vessels and blood.
Organ preservation times:
Heart 4-6 hours
Liver 12-18 hours
Kidney 24-48 hours
Heart-lung 2-4 hours
Lung 2-4 hours
Pancreas 12-18 hours
How does the donation process work?
A person who has died that has consented to donation prior to their death is referred to an organ procurement organization (OPO). If the patient has not previously consented (registered) to be a donor, the family will be asked to authorize donation. An extensive evaluation and testing performed by the OPO matches available organs with patients on the national waiting list.
Transplant centers are notified of the results of the match. The transplant team considers the organ offered for their patient that has been evaluated and listed at their center. The organ is accepted or declined. If declined, the organ donated will be offered to the next patient on the national waiting list.
How are organs allocated?
National rules have been established to determine priority for receiving an organ. Characteristics of both the donor and transplant candidate are considered to ensure that allocation proceeds efficiently and effectively. A combination of factors working together determines who receives which organ.
These factors can include: length of time spent on the waiting list, whether the potential organ candidate is a child, patient urgency, body size of both donor and candidate, tissue match between donor and candidate, blood type and blood antibody levels.
Explain living and deceased donation.
A living donor may be a blood relative, spouse or friend. Some living donors are not related to or known by the recipient, but donate purely from selfless motives. This type of donation is called anonymous or non-directed donation.
Kidneys and parts of livers, lungs, intestines and pancreata can be donated from one living person to another. Medical personnel at transplant centers determine who is a candidate for living donation.
Deceased donation occurs when an organ is recovered from a patient that has died and has been registered as a donor or has been authorized by his family to donate.
What are the criteria for donors and recipients?
The recipient must first undergo an evaluation by a transplant center to determine if they are healthy enough to go through a major surgery and that the transplant has the greatest chance of success.
The evaluation can take weeks, months or longer to complete, depending on the health of the recipient and how quickly the tests can be scheduled. To make sure there is a match, the medical team compares the blood type of the donor and recipient.
Information is collected about the donor from the donor’s medical record and next of kin.
Describe the medical definition of death.
Cardiac death is the irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory function. Death on a neurological basis is the irreversible cessation of all brain function, including the brain stem.
Most organ donors are people who suffer from head injuries that result in brain death. These are people who may have had a stroke, traumatic head injury due to a car accident or fall, or a brain tumor that has not metastasized (spread to another part of the body).
There are two legal ways to pronounce death. Death may be pronounced when a person’s heart stops beating (cardiac death) or when the person’s brain stops functioning (brain death). Brain death occurs when blood and the oxygen it carries cannot flow to the brain. The person’s heart is still beating and providing blood and oxygen to the rest of the body because he or she is on a ventilator (breathing machine). In brain death, the organs and tissues remain viable (healthy) and can be removed for transplantation. The organs and tissues are only removed after brain death has been declared by a physician. This physician is never part of the transplant team.
In certain situations, organs can be recovered for transplantation after the person’s breathing and heartbeat have stopped. This is called donation after cardiac death.
Where are the transplant programs in Virginia?
Transplant centers must apply and meet regulatory criteria to perform transplants. Centers are designated by the age (adult or pediatric) and organ they are authorized to transplant. Several people are designated to support patients prior to, during and after transplantation. Every transplant center must identify a social worker, financial coordinator, pharmacist and dietitian, in addition to the surgeon, transplant physician and transplant coordinator.
Other disciplines which support patients and families during the transplant experience include chaplains, child life, physical therapists and occupational therapists.
Where can data be accessed?
How is authorization for donation determined?
There are two ways authorization for donation may be given:
Adult individuals can give authorization by designating themselves as a donor at any time prior to their death. This is commonly known as “first-person authorization” or “donor designation.” When an individual designates themselves as a donor, they are documenting that they want to make an anatomical gift after their death. This document of gift is legal authorization for donation and cannot be revoked by anyone other than the individual.
In the absence of first-person authorization, the individual’s legal next-of-kin makes the decision about donation after the individual’s death.
There are several ways an individual can document their intent to be a donor. The most common way is through their local Department of Motor Vehicles when they obtain or renew their driver’s license. Individuals can also document their intent to be a donor through the Donate Life Virginia online registry at www.donatelifevirginia.org.
Virginia Transplant Center,
Henrico Doctors’ Hospital
1602 Skipwith Road, Richmond, 23229
Hunter Holmes McGuire VA
1201 Broad Rock Boulevard, Richmond, 23249
VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center
1250 East Marshall Street, Richmond 23298
ADULT: kidney, liver, pancreas, heart