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How Donation Works

Organ donation involves the recovery of lungs, kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas and sometimes intestines for transplantation to severely ill patients on the waiting list.

Tissue donation can include corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, blood vessels, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissue.

The organ donation process:

  • A patient with a severe brain injury is admitted to the hospital and every attempt is made to treat and save that person’s life.
  • The patient declines, has irreversible brain function, requires a ventilator and – after evaluation, testing and documentation – is declared brain dead. Brain death is irreversible cessation of brain function, characterized by absence of electrical activity, blood flow and brain function. A brain dead person is dead, although his or her cardiopulmonary functioning may be artificially maintained for some time. Brain death should not be confused with a coma. 
  • A referral is made to Gift of Life to evaluate the suitability of the patient for donation.
  • The Michigan Organ Donor Registry is checked to determine whether that patient intended to someday donate organs and tissue. If the patient is a registered donor, first-person authorization exists, allowing the donation to proceed. If the patient’s name is not on the state database, his or her family is offered the opportunity to donate the patient’s organs and tissue.
  • If the family declines, the process is complete. If the family gives authorization, the donor is kept on a ventilator and stabilized with fluids and drugs. Tests determine whether each organ is healthy and suitable for transplantation.
  • Potential organ recipients are identified according to blood type, need, other medical matching criteria and other protocol of the United Network for Organ Sharing, a national organization that handles the organ matching and placement process.
  • Surgical teams arrive at the hospital, and the donor is moved to the operating room on the ventilator.
  • Organs are removed, cooled and preserved with special solutions. Teams immediately return to their transplant centers with the organs to perform the transplant surgery.
  • Tissue donation takes place after the organs are removed.
  • The donor is released to the family and funeral arrangements proceed. Donation does not interfere with open-casket memorials.
  • Gift of Life later provides the donor’s family with information about the recipients of their gift or gifts.

In some instances, donation can occur with a patient who is not brain dead but has no hope for recovery. With the family’s consent, machine support is withdrawn and a doctor pronounces that the heart has stopped and the patient has died. Organs may then be recovered quickly for transplantation. This process is known as donation after circulatory death.

The tissue donation process:

  • When a person dies in a hospital and he or she is not on a ventilator at the time of death, the hospital notifies Gift of Life Michigan to assess the suitability for tissue donation. In certain cases, the call (or referral) may come from a medical examiner.
  • Based upon the medical information from the hospital, Gift of Life may contact the family of the potential donor.
  • The Michigan Organ Donor Registry is checked to determine whether the person was a registered donor. If so, first-person authorization exists, allowing the donation to proceed. If his or her name is not in the state database, the family is offered the opportunity to donate the person’s tissues.
  • If the family declines, the process is complete.
  • If the family gives authorization or the person was on the donor registry, a series of detailed questions about the donor will be asked, similar to those asked of blood donors, to assess the suitability of the gifts before they are transplanted into others.
  • After the medical-social history questions, Gift of Life will arrange for its personnel to recover the tissues that will benefit others. This will occur either at the hospital where the death occurred or at one of Gift of Life’s surgical suites.
  • Once recovered, the tissue is sent to a processor who will conduct further tests and procedures to ensure the safety of the tissue.
  • Gift of Life will arrange to have the body sent to the funeral home of the family’s choosing.
  • Gift of Life will cover all costs associated with the tissue recovery. Tissue donation might slightly delay the body's transport to the funeral home but will not interfere with funeral arrangements, including having an open-casket viewing.

Whole body donation for research

Gift of Life Michigan offers the possibility of whole body donation for medical research. A decision on suitability for such a donation comes after an individual's death and in consultation with family members.