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Can Children Be Organ Donors?


Truly Rare Gifts

For many reasons, organ donation is rare. Only 1% of registered donors will pass away under circumstances that will allow them to become organ donors. In situations involving children and young adults, that number is even smaller. It is extraordinarily rare for youths to become organ, eye or tissue donors – gifts from these little heroes are uncommon and very special.

Not only do pediatric donors help other young people through donation, but they can also save the lives of adults. This is because some organs – liver and kidney for example – can grow quickly to fill the space they are in.

Children on the Wait List

In the U.S. more than 2,000 children are on the organ Transplant Wait List. Many children wait longer than adults for a transplant because they need an organ of a certain size; for example, the heart of an adult could not be transplanted into a child because it would be too large. This is one of the reasons the gifts of young donors are so important, they can give a second chance to other young people.

Authorization for Pediatric Donors

When a pediatric patient passes away and there is an opportunity for them to donate, their Parent or Guardian would make a decision about moving forward with donation.

In situations where a person under the age of 18 has registered as a donor on a state ID or driver’s permit, a Parent or Guardian would choose whether or not to honor that donation decision.

“The death of a child is always a tragedy, but many families who agree to organ donation tell me that the opportunity to donate provides some “meaning” to their child’s death. Although it doesn’t make the grief any less, they find comfort in knowing their child has the ability to help others.” Dr. Judy Zier, Critical Care Physician at Children’s Hospital of Minnesota

Pediatric Donation Experience at LifeSource

Pediatric donation cases take more time than cases with adult donors. This is because brain death testing for children requires additional steps, which can lengthen the overall process. Additionally, it can take 48 hours to find transplant matches for the organs being recovered. In total, a pediatric donation case could take up to 72 hours from the time the decision to donate is made. Family members can stay with their loved one through this process and use this time to say goodbye.  

Donation process diagram
General overview of the organ donation process.

Something unique to young donors, is that they are so often able to give multiple life-saving gifts. Parents/Guardians can choose what gifts will be given and go onto save lives.

The LifeSource and hospital teams support families during this process. A LifeSource Family Support Coordinator meets with families and answers their questions. They walk them through the process, so they know what to expect and give as much or as little support as each family wants. The loss of a sibling can be exceptionally difficult for children. Many hospitals have specialists available to talk with siblings and explain what has happened. This support might be the first step in helping children process their loss.

LifeSource provides support for the family after donation as well. Our Donor Family Aftercare program provides support for families through the months and years following their loss. All donor families receive invitations to remembrance events and opportunities to connect with other donor families – this support from LifeSource continues for as long as a family needs.