The Organ Donation Process

Becoming a donor begins with you! You can voluntarily consent to be listed as a donor in the state registry. Many people choose to sign up when obtaining or renewing their driver’s license, though you can visit your state’s registry page as well.

The following steps are the typical procedures for organ donation from a deceased donor. Based on the circumstances, each case may vary.

Donor: Admission and Treatment

In the event of a traumatic injury, heart attack, stroke or other severe incident, paramedics will arrive on scene and transport the patient to the hospital. Once the patient arrives, healthcare professionals will continue to monitor the patient and do all that they can to save them.

Donor: Brain Death

Usually the patient will be transferred to intensive care where a physician will begin to test for brain death in the event that the patient is unresponsive. Patients who are brain dead cannot breathe on their own and will not wake up. Patients who are comatose still maintain brain function.

Hospital: Alerting the OPO

The patient will be placed on a ventilator while the hospital notifies its local organ procurement organization (OPO) of the situation. The OPO representative will travel to the hospital to evaluate the potential donor and decide if they are suitable for donation.

OPO: Consent

The OPO representative checks the state registry to see if the deceased is listed – if so, this serves as consent. The OPO and physician will speak with the next of kin about the possibility of donation if the patient is not in the registry.

OPO: Matching

The OPO will facilitate the matching process by entering the deceased patient’s information into the United National Organ System (UNOS) database and generating a list of matched recipients. Each organ is offered to the first patient on the list, though transplant physicians will consider the current physical state of each recipient before accepting the organs.

Donor: Recovering and Transporting Organs

The donor is taken to the operating room where organs and tissues are recovered. This surgery is treated just like that of a living person and all incisions are closed. The OPO arranges for the organs to be moved to their recipient hospitals as soon as possible to ensure maintenance of the organs.

Recipient: Transplantation

Once the organs arrive at the hospital, transplant teams dive right into the life-saving procedure of transplanting the new organs into the recipient.

OPO: Follow up Procedures

The OPO will work to ensure that all post-operative procedures go as smoothly as possible for the donor family. This may include making funeral arrangements and arranging for supportive care.