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The Organ Donation Process

Have you ever wondered how the organ donation process actually works? Checking the box and registering to be a donor is a selfless decision to share the gift of life. However, organ donation is very rare because there are a few key requirements to be eligible as a donor.

Several things must happen for organ donation to be possible. First, a potential organ donor must have a life-ending injury and be connected to a ventilator that is keeping their heart and lungs functioning artificially. In these cases, the hospital contacts LifeSource who evaluates to see if there is potential for donation.

Next, someone from LifeSource talks to the family about donation. If the person was a registered donor, LifeSource asks to honor their wishes and move forward with donation. If they were not registered, their next of kin is asked to make a decision on their behalf and the family takes time to think and ask questions before they decide. The process is easier for families if the patient is registered as a donor and/or if the family had previously discussed donation.

Next, specialized medical professionals from LifeSource will evaluate them in the hospital. This evaluation involves drawing blood for infectious disease testing, lab tests to determine the health of their organs, and possibly some imaging tests (CAT scans, X-rays, etc.).

Because so many things must happen for donation to be possible, only 1% of people registered are able to become organ donors. This is why donation is a rare and truly special gift.

After information is gathered, it’s put in a database under an anonymous identifier. The database matches the donor with the safest recipients based on blood type, tissue type, need and location. The sickest recipients are listed first.

Once recipients are located, the LifeSource coordinator at the donor’s hospital arranges a time that works for all parties involved – the donor’s family, recipients, surgeons and hospital staff. The recipient’s surgeons then travel to the donor’s hospital to perform the recovery surgery. When the surgery is over, those surgeons return to their transplant center with the recovered organ to perform the transplant surgery. Often, recipients are prepped for surgery and under anesthesia while the donor’s surgery is taking place to minimize the amount of time the organ is outside of the body.

Once recovery is complete, tissue and eye donation take place if the person is also a tissue and eye donor. Then the donor is transported to the funeral home to prepare for their service. LifeSource coordinates this transfer.

Throughout the process, LifeSource provides care and support to the donor’s family. Care and support events and resources are available to families through our aftercare program in the months and years following donation. 

Watch this video for more information about the organ donation process: