Organ donation may involve the recovery of lungs, kidneys, heart, liver, pancreas and intestines for transplantation to severely ill patients on the transplant waiting list.
Tissue donation may include corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, nerves, 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 by a ventilator 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 in the database, his or her family is offered the opportunity to donate the patient’s organs and tissue.
- If the family gives authorization, the donor is kept on the 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.
- The donor may remain at the hospital or be moved to Gift of Life Michigan's surgical center in Ann Arbor. Surgical teams arrive and the donor is moved to the operating room on the ventilator.
- After a moment of silence in honor of the donor, surgery begins. Organs are removed, cooled and preserved with special solutions. Surgical teams immediately return to their respective transplant hospitals with the organs to perform the transplant surgeries.
- Tissue donation takes place after the organs are removed.
- The donor is released to the family and funeral arrangements proceed. Donation need not interfere with open-casket memorials.
- Gift of Life later provides the donor’s family with basic information about the recipients of their loved one's 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 organ donation process may take about 24-36 hours.
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 provided by the hospital, Gift of Life may contact the family of the potential donor by phone.
- 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 database, the family is offered the opportunity to donate the person’s tissues.
- 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 usually occur at Gift of Life Michigan's surgical center in Ann Arbor.
- After a moment of silence in honor of the donor, surgery begins. 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 need not interfere with funeral arrangements, including having an open-casket viewing.