Everyone is a potential organ and tissue donor. Typically, organ donors are healthy people who have suffered an irreversible brain injury (most often due to a motor vehicle accident), or a brain hemorrhage resulting in brain death. The health of the donor and his organs and tissues, not his or her age, is what the transplant surgeon considers. The organs and tissues used for transplantation cannot have sustained any damage at the time of death. Brain death means that the brain is no longer functioning and can never recover, but vital organs and tissues can be supported artificially for a limited time and saved for possible transplantation.
Tissues don’t require the same special conditions as organs to survive, so tissue donation is possible even after the heart and lungs have stopped working.
Why decide to be an organ and tissue donor?
Donors tell us that their primary motivation for deciding to become an organ or tissue donor is to help someone else. One donor can save or improve the lives of many other people if a variety of different organs and tissues are used. What better way is there to preserve the memory of a loved one who has died prematurely?
Which organs and tissues can be donated?
Organs that can be donated include the kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, stomach and bowel. These organs can be used alone or in combination (heart/
lung, liver/kidney, or pancreas/kidney). Transplantation is performed as quickly as possible after brain death, preferably within eight hours for the liver and pancreas, four hours for the heart, and two hours for the combined heart/lung.
Tissues require less blood supply than organs and are therefore more easily preserved, frozen and stored for future use. Corneas, bone, skin, heart valves and veins are among the tissues that can be stored for months, and even, in some cases, for years.