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Frequently Asked Questions

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Listed below are some of the most frequently asked questions about organ and tissue donation.


1. Who can sign up to become an organ donor?

2. How do I become an organ and tissue donor?
3. What can be donated?
4. Who can become an organ donor?
5. Why aren't there enough organs to meet the need?
6. Will the quality of my medical care be compromised if I sign a donor card?
7. If I donate, will my body be disfigured so that I won't be able to have a normal funeral?
8. Will it cost my family anything to donate?
9. What major religious organizations in the United States support organ and tissue donation?
10. Does a patient who is rich or influential receive special consideration in organ distribution?
11. How long do you have to wait for an organ?
12. What are organ procurement organizations (OPOs)?
13. What are the steps involved in organ donation and transplantation?
14. How are recipients matched to donor organs?
15. Why should minorities be particularly concerned about organ donation?
16. Who pays for transplant surgery?
17. What about donating organs and tissues for use in research?
18. Where can I get more statistics and data about donation and transplants?
19. Where can I get more information about organ and tissue donation?

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1. Who can sign up to become an organ donor?
Any Maine resident 16 years of age or older may add his or her name to the organ donor registry.

2. How do I become an organ and tissue donor?
It’s easy.  You can sign up online with the Secretary of State’s Organ Donor Registry Online Service.  You’re only a few clicks away from becoming a donor.  Or, if you prefer, you can also sign up by visiting a Bureau of Motor Vehicles Branch Office.

3. What can be donated?
Heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, liver, small bowel, bone and associated tendons, blood vessels, heart valves, skin and corneas.

4. Who can become an organ donor?
People who have died by brain death criteria, cessation of brain function usually due to a traumatic injury or stroke, can often donate organs and tissue unless there are other reasons for a medical rule-out.  Patients who die after the cessation of heart and lung function following a family's decision to withdraw ventilatory support can also be considered for organ donation - this is referred to as Donation After Cardiac Death (DCD).  Tissue donation is different from organ donation in that many more people are likely to be eligible for tissue donation.  Tissue can be recovered from donors up to 24 hours after death has be determined by either brain death or cardiac death criteria.

5. Why aren't there enough organs to meet the need?
Over time, transplants have become more successful and more people have been added to the national waiting list.  However, the numbers of donors has not grown as fast as the number of people that need organs and tissue.  Every day, 18 people in the United States die waiting for organ transplants. Every 11 minutes another person's name is added to the list of thousands who await lifesaving organ transplants.  Currently, there are over 101,000 total patients waiting for a transplant in the United States.  Thousands more await life enhancing tissue transplants.

6. Will the quality of my medical care be compromised if I sign a donor card?
If you are sick or injured, the number one priority of the medical team is to save your life.  Organ and tissue donation can be pursued only after all efforts to save your life have failed, after you are declared dead and after your family has been consulted.

7. If I donate, will my body be disfigured so that I won't be able to have a normal funeral?
Donated organs and tissues are removed surgically. Careful attention is made so that an open casket funeral is still an option if that is the person's choice. You can still receive a traditional burial or cremation if you donate.

8. Will it cost my family anything to donate?
Organ and tissue donation is completely free. A donor's family is not charged for donation.

9. What major religious organizations in the United States support organ and tissue donation?
Religious groups including Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths support organ and tissue donation as a charitable gift of life consistent with the basic tenets of their faiths.

10. Does a patient who is rich or influential receive special consideration in organ distribution?
No.  Although celebrities get most of the media attention, the fact is that thousands of other patients receive donated organs as well.  Donor organs are matched to recipients based on blood and tissue type, geographic location and medical urgency.  Organ allocation is blind to wealth or social status.  Further, factors such as race, gender, age or celebrity status are not considered when determining who receives an organ.

11. How long do you have to wait for an organ?
There is no set amount of time, and there is no way to know how long a patient must wait to receive a donor organ.  Factors that affect waiting times are patient medical status, the availability of donors in the local area and the level of match between the donor and the recipient.  Don't forget that listing practices also affect wait times.  Some physicians and programs list many patients, even those not yet ready for donation.  Others list very conservatively.  Organs are usually first made available to the sickest patients in the region where the organ was donated.  If there is no medical match in that area, then the organ is offered to patients in a broader geographic area.

12. What are organ procurement organizations (OPOs)?
OPOs are organizations that coordinate activities relating to organ procurement in a designated service area.  Evaluating potential donors, discussing donation with family members, and arranging for the surgical removal of donated organs are some of their primary functions.  OPOs are also responsible for making arrangements for the organs' distribution according to national organ sharing policies.  In addition, OPOs provide information and education to medical professionals and the general public to encourage organ and tissue donation.

13. What are the steps involved in organ donation and transplantation?
Hospitals notify the Organ Procurement Organization of the impending death of a patient.  The OPO staff makes an initial determination about medical disqualifications for organ and tissue donation, and if there are none immediately apparent a trained donation professional goes to the hospital to further evaluate the patient and offer donation to the next of kin if the patient has not already consented to donation through a donor card or through a motor vehicle office.  Using the national computerized waiting list, OPO staff match the donated organs with the most appropriate recipient(s) and arrange for the recovery surgery.  They also stay with the donor's family and provide support as long as the family wishes.  Immediately after the organ(s) are surgically removed from the donor, the OPO staff transports the organs to the transplant centers, where the recipients have been readied for surgery.

14. How are recipients matched to donor organs?
Persons waiting for transplants are listed by the transplant center where they plan to have surgery on a national computerized waiting list of potential transplants patients in the United States.  Under contract with the Health Resources and Services Administration, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) located in Richmond, Virginia maintains a 24-hour telephone service to aid in matching donor organs with patients on the national waiting list and to coordinate efforts with transplant centers.  When donor organs become available, the OPO that recovered the organs provides UNOS with information about the medical characteristics of the donor and specific organs, including medical compatibility between the donor and potential recipient(s) on such characteristics as blood type, weight, and age; as well as the recipients' urgency of need; and length of time on waiting list.  Also, preference is generally given to recipients from the same geographic area as the donor, because timing is a critical element in the success of transplants.

15. Why should minorities be particularly concerned about organ donation?
Minorities suffer end-stage renal disease (ESRD), a very serious life-threatening kidney disease, much more frequently than do whites.  Asian Americans are three times more likely than whites to develop ESRD; Hispanics are three times as likely; and blacks are twice as likely as whites to develop ESRD.  ESRD is treatable with dialysis but dialysis can result in a poor quality of life for the patient.  The preferred treatment of ESRD is kidney transplantation. Transplantation offers the patient freedom from dialysis to lead a more normal life and can successfully cure ESRD for many years.  As with any transplant procedures, it is very important to assure a close match between donor and recipient blood types and genetic make-up. Members of different racial and ethnic groups are usually more genetically similar to members of their own group than they are to others.  (For example, blacks are usually more genetically similar to other blacks than they are to whites.)  It is important, therefore, to increase the minority donor pool so that good matches can be made as frequently as possible for minority patients.

16. Who pays for transplant surgery?
Most transplants are paid for by private health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid programs. Patients can get detailed information from their physicians or health insurers.

17. What about donating organs and tissues for use in research?
Organs and tissues from Donor Registry consented donors are only recovered for the purpose of the transplantation.  Should information come to light after the recovery procedure to indicate that an organ or tissue is not suitable for transplantation, an effort will be made to place the organ or tissue in an approved research protocol.

18. Where can I get more statistics and data about donation and transplants?
You may find interesting statistics about organ donation and transplants on our Statistics page.  The best source for statistics comes from the data section of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

19. Where can I get more information about organ and tissue donation?
If you would like more information about adding your name to the Maine Organ Donor Registry, you may review other pages on this site, or contact the Bureau of Motor Vehicles at: (207) 624-9000 ext. 52114 or Email: license.bmv@maine.gov. If you would like more information about organ and tissue donation and transplantation, you may call the New England Organ Bank at (800) 446-6362. You can also visit the website of the United Network for Organ Sharing at www.unos.org.  The UNOS site contains up-to-date statistical information, and links to government agencies and other transplant-related organizations.

 

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