Organ and Tissue Donation: a Gift That Lives On

Organ and Tissue Donation: a Gift That Lives On

Barb Green, Parish Nurse

Milton, WI





Transplantation holds the promise of life for thousands of patients with life-threatening conditions and diseases. The generosity of donor families who at a time of great tragedy decide to help other is immeasurable. Organ transplantation is important because it saves lives. Over 19 people die every day because they did not receive an organ in time. One donor can save eight lives and improve the lives of 50 or more people. Donating a loved one’s organs gives the family something to hold onto — a part of that loved one still lives on. Organ donation may add 5 years to someone’s life — anything more than that is bonus.

More than 28,000 organ transplants, 45,000 eye transplants and 750,000 tissue transplants are performed each year in the United States. More than

8,000 families donated their loved one’s organs last year. Over 6,500 people made the decision to become a living organ donor by donating a kidney or part of their liver to save another’s life. In Wisconsin more than 2000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant; in the U.S., 120,000.

Anyone can register to be a donor, even if you have pre-existing medical conditions. At the time of death, the appropriate donation professionals will review the patient’s medical and social histories and current medical tests to determine eligibility for donation. Often tissue can be used when an organ can’t.

Organs that can be transplanted include the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and intestines. Examples of tissue that can be transplanted include bone, heart valves, ligaments, tendons, veins, skin and corneas.

Organ recovery takes place only after all efforts to save the person’s life have been exhausted and death declared. There is no expense to the donor’s family. All costs are taken care of by the recovery agency.

Most religions fully support donation and consider it an act of charity. Recovery agencies work closely with funeral providers so that the body is not disfigured and funeral services are not delayed.

The transplant system is designed to make sure that the person who is the best possible match, is in the most medical need, and who is waiting the longest is

offered the transplant first. Factors such as race, gender, age, income or social status are not considered.

Any one of us could someday be in need of an organ transplant. People of all ages with diabetes, high blood pressure, cystic fibrosis and other common illnesses

are waiting for organs. Approximately 40,000 people under the age of 50 are currently waiting in the U.S. People suffering from serious burns, injuries or genetic disorders are in need of tissue transplants.

Residents of Wisconsin can authorize donation by going to the Wisconsin Donor Registry at or by signing the proper place

on your drivers’ license. Residents of Illinois register at and Michigan residents at If you are from another state, go to to learn how to register to be a donor in your state. You can also provide for this in your Health Care Power of Attorney by stating that you authorize donation of your organs and tissues. Tell your family about your donation decision. Families cannot override your decision to donate.

Advances in technology allow more people than ever to be donors, even those over 70 and/or those with previous medical conditions and disease. Making a decision about donation comes for many families at a time of great stress, anxiety and sadness. By understanding the facts about donation, you can educate and prepare your family about your decision to become a donor, and they will find peace knowing they’ve carried out your wishes.

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