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Being a Life-Saver: Organ Donation

Currently, there are about 115,000 people on the transplant waiting list, awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant. Every ten minutes, another

person is added to this large national waiting list. Despite the increased awareness for organ donation and technological advances in medicine, there continues to be a large organ shortage.

Since April is National Donate Life Month, now is a great time to register. Every day this month, people across the U.S. will make a special effort to promote donation awareness and to celebrate the incredible generosity of all those who have saved lives and encourage others to become organ donors. Like many, you may be interested in organ donation but have a few questions.

Who can become a donor?

All adults and in some states, people under the age of 18 can indicate their commitment to organ donation. Generally, parents or guardians must authorize organ donation wishes for those under age 18. Suitability for donation is determined at the time of death by your physical condition and the state of your organs rather than your age. Newborns as well as the elderly have all been organ donors. In fact, 7% of all organ donations are from people over age 65.

Can you still donate if you have a medical condition?

You are still able to donate if you have a health condition and are always encouraged to register. At the time of death, the transplant team will decide if you are a suitable candidate based on your medical history and clinical evaluation. Sometimes, even one organ and/or tissues can be used.

What organs and tissue are typically donated?

The main vital organs that can be donated include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, and intestines. Tissues that can be given include hands, face, bone, blood vessels, cornea, skin, heart valves, and connective tissue. In addition, bone marrow, stem cells, and umbilical cord blood can also be donated.

How will your organs be distributed?

Organs will be matched up to transplant patients depending on medical need, time on the waiting list, blood and tissue type, and geographic location.

How do you register to become a donor?

There are multiple ways to sign up. You can go to to register online. You can also sign up when you visit your local DMV office such as when you need to renew your driver’s license. At the time that you register, you can also choose which of your organs and tissues you want to donate.

Even if you have an organ donation card, it is still important for you to sign up as you may not always have your card with you at all times. It’s also a good idea to inform your family of your wishes as most families certainly try to fulfill the wishes of their loved ones. And of course, you can remove yourself from the registered donors list at any time.

If you become a registered donor, how will it affect your medical care?

This is often a concern of those that want to donate. Some people have heard a medical team will not try as hard to save your life if they realize you are an organ donor. This is completely false! The medical team that is trying to save your life is entirely different than the transplant team. Every effort will be made to save your life before organ donation is even a possibility.

In addition, organ donation will not cause significant disfigurement of your body and an open casket funeral is still possible. Techniques used to obtain all organs and tissues are specialized with closing of all incisions. There is absolutely no cost to your family for expenses related to the organ donation and transplantation.

How can you donate one of your organs to someone as a living donor?

Some people choose to make organ donations while they are alive to family members, friends, or even to those they don’t know. As a living donor, you can donate one of your two kidneys, one of two lobes of your liver, one or part of your lungs, part of your pancreas, or a portion of your intestines. Your remaining kidney will continue to function and your liver can grow and regenerate almost to its normal size.

Generally, living donors need to be in good health. The risks of surgical procedures, recovery, and finances must be carefully considered before a living organ donation. To become a living donor, you can be evaluated by your local transplant center to determine if you are suitable to be a donor.

Just one organ donor can save up to 8 lives and is one of those most meaningful ways to help so many others. So this month, consider registering when you can as more and more people need your help and continue to be added to the wait list every single day. You can be the one to save lives.


Originally from Orange County, California, Karen Tran-Harding is a radiology resident physician that found love, education, life lessons, and two corgis in the heart of the bluegrass. She has interest in medical media and education. She is a regular contributor to StantonMD and Everyday Medicine.

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