All the vital organs in the body can be transplanted: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and the small intestine. Tissues include the cornea or eye, bone, skin, cartilage, ligaments, veins and heart valves.

Everyone should consider himself or herself a potential organ and tissue donor. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated. Organs are recovered from individuals who are determined by a physician to be “brain dead,” meaning their brain and brainstem have died. They have usually suffered a severe trauma or blow to the head, such as an aneurysm or a gunshot wound. The individual is in an intensive care unit at a hospital and every measure possible is made to save his or her life. A series of tests are performed by a neurospecialist to determine brain death. Brain death is death—it is not reversible. Organs can only be recovered from individuals who are brain dead, or in some cases who die a cardiac death—meaning that their heart has stopped beating. Organ donors can also donate tissue. The only diseases that completely eliminate you from being an organ or tissue donor are metastatic cancer, HIV or AIDS. Other medical conditions that could affect organ donation are evaluated on a case by case basis.

Once brain death has been confirmed by medical personnel not associated with the organ recovery, the donation process is set into motion. Tissues can be recovered up to 24 hours after death by trained technicians in the tissue recovery suite at ARORA or a hospital operating room. Prosthetic devices are put in place of recovered bones to maintain the form of the body. The body is carefully reconstructed and the funeral home chosen by the donor family transports the donor’s body to prepare for funeral service, burial or cremation. The recovered tissues are stored in freezers until all quality assurance tests come back verifying that no diseases are present. Once this assurance is received, the tissue is then processed into grafts for distribution to clinicians for life-saving and life-enhancing transplants.

Organ donation is a more difficult process because organs must be matched with individuals waiting on the national waiting list. Once the organs have been matched with a recipient, the organs are surgically removed in a hospital operating room. Surgeons and their assistants recover each organ in a specific order. The surgeons return to the transplant center and transplant the organ into the awaiting recipient. Due to specific time limits, some organs, such as the kidneys, can be properly packaged and sent on a commercial airline to their destination, while other organs must be transported more urgently. For example, the heart can only be outside the body for 4 hours before being transplanted, but kidneys can be outside the body for up to 48 hours before being transplanted. Every available test is performed to ensure the safety of the organs and tissues.

No! Doctors’ and hospitals’ number one priority is saving lives. The idea that hospitals  will “kill you off”‘ for your organs and tissues is a vicious rumor and myth that serves only to needlessly frighten people, unfortunately preventing them from registering as donors. Organ donation is never discussed until brain death has been declared. Further, the medical personnel who declare brain death are entirely different from the organ recovery team. Medical personnel must follow strict guidelines, including conducting multiple tests before they can pronounce brain death.

No. Because organ and tissue donation are time-sensitive procedures, your will will likely be read too late to make donation possible. That is why donor registration is so important.