Why should I donate my organs and tissues?

Your decision to become an organ and tissue donor can help save or significantly improve the lives of many people. Today, there are many Albertans waiting for an organ transplant while countless others are waiting for a tissue transplant.

How many lives are impacted by donation?

Organ donation from one person can save the lives of up to eight people. A single tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 70 people.

Who can be a donor?

Anyone has the potential to be an organ donor. Anyone 80 years and younger may be a potential tissue donor. Previous health history is important. As with donating blood, potential organ and tissue donors are medically screened to prevent the transmission of disease to recipients.

If I have a serious medical condition, can I still donate?

Yes, you can. Some tissues and organs can be donated even if the donor has a serious medical condition. All organs and tissues are tested and evaluated against current standards to ensure they are suitable for donation. Organs and tissues not suitable for transplant are recovered only when there is consent to research/teaching.

What organs and tissues can I donate?

There are many diseases that could affect an organ to the point that a transplant is required. Here is a list of organs that can be donated:

Can living people donate organs or tissues?

Yes, and the rate of live donation is increasing. An individual can potentially donate one of their kidneys, a portion of their liver or lung to someone they know, such as a family member, spouse, friend or co-worker. Kidney donation is the most common procedure. Living donors can lead healthy lives.

Living tissue options include donation of the amniotic sac (membrane) following a scheduled C- section birth or donation of the top portion of the thigh (femoral head) following a hip replacement.

Can Children become donors?

There are a number of children whose only hope for survival is an organ transplantation. While some organs from adults can be transplanted into children partly (split liver) or as a whole, others such as the heart can only be used from a donor of comparable size and weight. Therefore some children depend on donation from deceased children. The decision on becoming a donor is made by the parents or legal guardians and follows generally the same rules as for adults with some additional restrictions for newborn children. Children are generally not considered as living donors of solid organs.

What is the criteria for deceased organ donation?

The two criteria for organ donation are:

◦Neurological Determination of Death (NDD) - Deceased organ donation can take place when someone has been declared brain dead, a doctor has determined the organs can be used for transplant, and loved ones opt to artificially maintain vital organs by a ventilator (breathing tube) to keep them suitable for transplant.

This type of donation is referred to as donation after neurological determination of death, when a person suffers devastating brain injury, such as may occur following an aneurysm, severe head injury or stroke.

Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD) is not widely used in Alberta at this time.

Another option for donation is organ donation after cardiac death (DCD). DCD offers families the option of donation in cases where neurological criteria for death have not been met, and the decision to withdraw life-sustaining treatment has been made. The patient has no hope of survival or meaningful functional status. Only after prior and independent decision by the patient or family to withdraw life support will the option of organ donation after cardiac death be considered.

What is the criteria for deceased tissue donation?

Tissue donation is based on cardiac death, or when the heart stops beating.

What role do cultural and religious perspectives play in organ and tissue donation?

Culture and religion play a significant role in end-of-life experiences, including how people respond to illness, how grief is demonstrated, what rituals are important at death and which members of the family are present.

Most religious groups support organ and tissue donation. You are encouraged to discuss this with the religious leader(s) in your community.

If our family agreed to organ and tissue donation, can we still have a normal funeral?

Yes. In organ and tissue donation, the body is treated with a great deal of respect and dignity. An open casket funeral may be planned and no one, except those directly involved, will know about the donation.

Are donor families informed about who received the gift of their loved ones organs and tissues?

No. Names of both the donor families and donor recipients are kept confidential. Often recipients will write letters of thanks to the donor families.

Do transplants work? Are they successful?

YES! Organ transplants save lives. Tissue transplants enhance the quality of life. Generally, transplantation success rates are excellent – between 80 and 95 per cent of patients are doing well one year after their transplant. Outcomes continue to improve each year, so more and more transplant patients are living enhanced, productive lives.

What should I do if I want to be an organ and tissue donor?

Alberta, unlike other provinces, does not yet have a provincial organ and tissue donation agency. In other provinces, you can register your consent to donate your organs and tissues.

Find a time to have a conversation about your wishes with your family.