How Donation Works
All lifesaving efforts are made to save a person’s life without regard to their status as an organ/tissue donor. It is only after these efforts have failed and someone is declared dead that recovery efforts begin. The staff at the hospital is not involved with the recovery process and does not have access to the Secretary of State Organ/Tissue Donor Registry.
When death occurs or is imminent, the hospital staff contacts the organ procurement organization (OPO) to report the death. The OPO sends clinical staff to the hospital if it is likely that donation is possible. The OPO contacts the Secretary of State’s donor registry hotline to find out if the person is listed in the registry. If the person is in the registry, the trained OPO staff will work with the family, explaining the process, gathering information and providing support. If he/she is not in the registry, family will be educated about the process and asked for consent to donate.
Each potential donor is evaluated to see what organs/tissue can be recovered for transplantation. The number of organs/tissue recovered varies from person to person.
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) manages the list of patients waiting for transplants. A computer program matches donor organs with recipients based on certain matching criteria such as blood and tissue type, height and weight, as well as how sick the patient is, how long they have been waiting and distance to patient. About 75 percent of all organs go to local patients.
The Illinois Secretary of State’s office maintains the registry for those who wish to donate organs and tissue after death. It is also possible to be a living donor, but the Secretary of State’s office does not maintain any type of living donor registry.
Organs that can be donated while living include the kidney, part of the pancreas, part of a lung, part of the liver and part of the intestine.
Healthy adults between ages 18-60 also donate blood stem cells (bone marrow). In order for a blood stem cell transplant to be successful, the patient and the blood stem cell donor must have a closely matched tissue type or human leukocyte antigen (HLA). Since tissue types are inherited, patients are more likely to find a matched donor within their own racial and ethnic group. For more information on stem cell donation, go to BeTheMatch.org.
- Central Illinois — www.cicbc.org/ or www.redcrossillinois.org
- Chicago — www.lifesource.org
- East Central Illinois — www.bloodservices.org
- Kane, McHenry, DeKalb, Will, DuPage, Cook, Grundy, Kendall, Lee, Ogle and LaSalle counties — www.heartlandbc.org
- Northern Illinois — www.rrvbc.org
- Southern Illinois — www.redcrossblood.org/missouri-illinois
Minorities overall have a particularly high need for organ transplants because some diseases of the kidney, heart, lung, pancreas and liver occur frequently in racial and ethnic minority populations. In addition, similar blood type is essential in matching donors to recipients. Because certain blood types are more common in ethnic minority populations, increasing the number of minority donors can increase the frequency of minority transplants.
- According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are more than 116,000 persons on the national transplant waiting list.
- 20 persons die each day waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant.
- Every 14 minutes, a new name is added to the national waiting list.
- 33 percent of deceased donors were minorities.
- 71 percent of kidney transplant recipients were minorities.
- 40 percent of all transplant recipients were minorities.
Most religions support organ/tissue donation as an act of generosity. The following is what your spiritual leaders have to say on donation. Visit the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services — Religious Views on Donation section.
Get involved in your religious community during National Donor Sabbath, observed during the second weekend in November every year. Learn more about the National Donor Sabbath program.
Many people incorrectly assume that they are too old to be on the registry, or that because they take medications or have a history of certain medical issues, that they would not be allowed to donate be on the registry. There is no age limit to being on the Organ/Tissue Donor Registry. There are no limitations to being on the registry due to health or medical history.
In 2011, 32 percent of all donors were over age 50. As people are living longer and healthier lives, more patients can be helped from seniors who say “Yes” to donation. Potential donors are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and the eligibility criteria can change over time. There are no rule-outs for joining the registry. Eligibility for donation is determined at the time of death.
Talking to your Family
By joining Illinois’ Organ/Tissue Donor Registry, your wishes to be an organ/tissue donor will be honored after your death. Although family consent is no longer required, it is still important to talk to your family about your wish to be a donor. Your family will still be involved in the donation process, and knowing your wishes ahead of time will make your loved ones better prepared during this emotional time.
What Can Be Donated
The Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry allows you to donate kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, intestines, cornea, skin, heart valves, bone, veins, cartilage, tendons and ligaments after death.
Organs (kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and intestines) cannot be stored, so they must be transplanted into a recipient within hours of donation. Tissue may be stored for later use. Tissue donors are able to restore sight for recipients, as well as cover burns, repair hearts or mend joint injuries.
Who Can Donate
Anyone can join the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry. Many people mistakenly believe that their age or a previous medical condition will automatically rule them out as a donor, but there are no strict age limits for being a donor, and very few medical conditions that rule out your suitability as a donor. The condition of your organs is much more important than your age, and doctors will determine at the time of your death whether any previous medical conditions would prevent you from donating.
Read about special concerns for minority groups in the section on Minorities.
Wondering if you are too old? Visit the section on Seniors.
Who Can Receive a Transplant
People in every age range, from newborns to grandparents, and from every walk of life are represented on the transplant waiting list. The responsibility of matching organ/tissue donors with potential recipients is handled by UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing. UNOS is independent of any particular hospital. Despite what you may have seen on TV, a hospital’s doctors are unable to designate where a donated organ will go. Instead, a computer program matches potential recipients with organs according to several factors, including blood type; tissue type (for some organs); size match between donor and recipient; severity of illness; time on the waiting list; and proximity to the donor.