Organ Donation Process

people are awaiting organ transplants in the US


Donating an organ can be an emotional and intricate journey that begins with one person – the organ donor. 

Most commonly in the US, people decide to become organ donors upon their death. In most states, you can choose to donate your organs when you renew your driver’s license. 

In the event that you have a severe head injury, a stroke, or any other life-threatening event the medical team responding will begin life-saving efforts on the scene. 

Upon arrival at the hospital, nurses and doctors will continue their lifesaving efforts and continue to help your heartbeat. If they are unable to continue to support the patient through artificial means, they will then determine if the patient is suitable to have their organs donated. 

The hospital staff will then discuss the organ donation process with the family.

Upon death, hospital staff will then enter the patient’s specifics such as blood type, height, and weight into the donor matching system to begin to search for a potential match. 

The patient will then be brought into the surgery where their organs will be removed and sent to candidates who are anxiously awaiting them.

After completion, the donor will then be taken to the funeral home where the family can fulfill the funeral wishes. 

Contrary to popular belief, an open casket is possible for someone who has chosen organ donation.  

Living donations are treated a bit differently. While family and friends can be a donor for someone in need, you can also be an anonomous donor as well. In fact, living donors made over 6,500 transplants possible last year alone! 

So how do you start the living donor process? 

To be considered a living donor you must be:

  • In good physical and mental health 
  • Over 18 years old 

Health conditions such as high blood pressure, HIV, diabetes, cancer, and certain psychiatric conditions may limit your ability to become a living donor. 

Having a health condition can cause harm to the recipient so it is important that you be completely honest about your health history. You will be subject to a full medical and psychological evaluation and be informed of all the risks that can come from organ donation. 

What are the most common living donations? 

Kidneys are the most common donated organ. Other organs that can be donated can include the uterus, and portions of the liver, lung, intestine, and pancreas. 

Organs can be donated in a few ways. 

  • The directed donation is where the donated organ is going to a specific individual. The donor is usually a friend, relative, or good samaritan who heard about the person’s need for an organ. 
  • Non-directed donation where the donor does not know the name of the recipient, only that they were medically compatible for a transplant. Oftentimes, donor and recipient never meet unless otherwise specified.
  • The paired donation is when a candidate has someone in mind to donate (typically a kidney), but they are not medically a match.  The donor can still donate their kidney to someone who is considered a match and the recipient can be matched with a better donor.