Frequently Asked Questions

About Donation

Frequently Asked Questions 

There are many myths and misperceptions about organ and tissue donation stemming from cultural beliefs, distrust of the medical establishment, and even urban legends. For the nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents waiting for a lifesaving transplant, sharing the correct information is a matter of life and death. 

Get the facts

If you have a medical condition that may cause one or more of your vital organs to fail, transplantation may be a treatment option. A transplant is a surgical operation to give a functioning human organ to someone whose organ has stopped working or is close to failing. In some cases, a living person can donate all or part of a functioning organ. In other instances, the donor would be someone who has recently passed away.

People of all ages and medical histories should consider themselves potential donors. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissue can be donated.

• The eight vital organs that can be donated are heart, kidneys (2), pancreas, lungs (2), liver, and intestines.

• Donated corneas help restore sight.

• Skin grafts heal burn victims and are used for breast reconstruction post-mastectomy.

• Healthy heart valves are life-saving to those with diseased valves.

• Bone grafts, ligament and tendons are used to repair injured or diseases bones and joints.

The number of patients waiting for organs varies every day. As of July 2024, the number is over 100,000. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the waiting list. The number of people requiring a lifesaving transplant continues to rise faster than the number of available donors.

No. The decision to be an organ donor will in no way affect the level of medical care for a sick or injured person. The team of doctors and nurses involved in treating the patient is not involved with the recovery/transplant team, which is called only after death has occurred. 

All major religions support donation and consider it the greatest gift a person can give. Click here to learn more.

There is never a charge to the family or estate of the donor for organ and tissue recovery. The donor family pays only for medical expenses before death and costs associated with funeral arrangements. All associated recovery costs are paid by NJ Sharing Network. It is an altruistic gift and by law, NJ Sharing Network is not able to pay for any other funeral or hospital charges unrelated to the donation process.

There is no definitive age limit for organ donation. Organs from donors as young as a few days to adults in their 90's have been successfully transplanted. A patient’s medical history is more important than the age of the donor. If a patient has a normal functioning organ and is in good health, then organ donation can be an option.

Don't rule yourself out from being an organ donor because you have a health condition. You're always encouraged to register. Even with an illness, you may be able to donate your organs or tissue. The transplant team will determine what can be used at the time of your death based on a clinical evaluation, medical history and other factors. Even if there's only one organ or tissue that can be used, that's one life saved or improved.

During the recovery procedure, the utmost care and respect is given to the donor’s body and every effort is made to meet your needs. Donated organs and tissue are removed by skilled medical professionals in a sterile surgical procedure. An open casket funeral is possible for organ and tissue donors, and funeral arrangements can continue as planned following donation. 

Thank you to UNOS for the following information. 

The deceased donation process begins with a decision. You decide you want to help save people with end-stage organ disease by donating your organs when you die. When your time comes, perhaps decades later, your organs may be used to save many lives. People most frequently become donors after a stroke, heart attack or severe head injury.

Even though cases vary, the following describes the basic steps in donation from deceased donors.

Transport
Transport

A specialized team of EMTs and paramedics begin life-saving efforts at the scene. They also contact emergency room doctors during transport. 

 

Treatment

Treatment

When the team arrives, ER doctors and nurses evaluate injuries and continue life-saving measures, including a ventilator, IV fluids, blood replacement and medicine to help the heart keep beating.

 

Intensive care

Intensive care

After vital signs stabilize, the patient is transferred to the ICU, where a doctor performs special tests to see how much damage has been done to the brain and organs. The medical team continues advanced life saving measures during the tests.

 

Brain death declared
Brain death declared

Brain death is diagnosed as an irreversible loss of blood flow to the whole brain, causing the brain to die. After brain death, the donor’s body is supported by artificial means, such as a ventilator.

 

Evaluation
Evaluation

Specially-trained medical practitioners from the organ procurement organization (OPO) go to the hospital to see if the patient is medically suitable for organ donation.

 

Consent
Authorization

The doctor talks to the family about the patient’s death. Then, someone from the OPO, or specially-trained hospital staff, talks to the family about donation. If the patient signed up to be a donor in his/her state or national registry, that information is shared with the family and the OPO family counselor talks to the family to explain the donation process and answer all of the family’s questions. The OPO and hospital work together as a team to support the family and honor the patient’s wishes.

If the patient has not signed up in a state or national registry at the time of his/her death, the patient’s family takes time to think and ask questions before they decide. The donation decision is easier if the family has previously discussed donation.

Sign up to be an organ donor

 

Placement
Placement

The donor’s blood type, height, weight, the hospital zip code and other data are entered into UNOS’ national computer system to begin the organ allocation process. Appropriate candidates are found for whom the donor’s organs are the best match. Timing is especially important at this step and during recovery.

 

Organ recovery
Organ recovery

The donor is taken to an operating room, where organs are surgically removed. After that, the organs are sent to the transplant hospitals where candidates are waiting for them. The donor is treated with honor and respect throughout the donation.

 

Funeral
Funeral

After donation, the donor is taken to a funeral home, and the OPO works with the funeral director to honor the donor and donor family’s funeral wishes. An open casket funeral is possible after organ donation.

 

Follow-up
Follow-up

A few weeks later, the OPO sends a letter to the donor’s family, letting them know which organs were transplanted while keeping the names of the recipients confidential. Most OPOs continue to provide support to donor families, such as bereavement counseling and later, memorial events.

If donor families and recipients wish to correspond with each other further, they follow their OPO and transplant programs’ communication guidelines.

Within the United States, living donations of a kidney can be made to a family member, friend, or anyone on the waiting list. Living donations are arranged through many kidney transplant centers throughout the U.S. They will test to see if you are a match and if you are healthy enough to safely undergo surgery.  Click here for more information about living donation

Yes. Non-resident aliens—people who don't live in the U.S. or aren't citizens—can both donate and receive organs in the United States. Organs are given to patients according to medical need, not citizenship.

Organ/Tissue Recipient Questions

No. A national system matches available organs from the donor with people on the waiting list based on blood type, body size, how sick they are, donor distance, tissue type and time on the list. Race, income, gender, celebrity and social status are never considered.

Some transplant candidates and recipients have difficulty affording the cost of a transplant or related expenses such as travel, lodging and post-transplant medications. There are a number of local, regional and national organizations that provide some assistance through grants or services. In individual cases, local community organizations or faith groups may be able to help, and friends and families may solicit funds through public events or appeals. Every transplant program has a social worker or financial coordinator who can work with you and advise you on insurance and funding options.

Many different medical and logistical characteristics are considered for an organ to be distributed to the best-matched potential recipient. While the specific criteria differ for various organs, matching criteria generally include:

• blood type and size of the organ(s) needed

• time spent awaiting a transplant

• the relative distance between donor and recipient.

For certain organs other factors are vital, including:

• the medical urgency of the recipient

• the degree of immune-system match between donor and recipient

• whether the recipient is a child or an adult.

Although donation and transplantation can take place successfully between individuals from different racial or ethnic groups, transplant success is often better when organs are matched between people of the same racial or ethnic background. People of African American/Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native and multiracial descent currently make up nearly 58% of individuals on the national organ transplant waiting list. These communities are in great need of more organ and tissue donors.

More than half of all people on the transplant waiting list are from a racial or ethnic minority group. That is because some diseases that cause end-stage organ failure are more common in these populations than in the general population. For example, African Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics/Latinos are three times more likely than Caucasians to suffer from end-stage renal (kidney) disease, often as the result of high blood pressure. Native Americans are four times more likely than Caucasians to suffer from diabetes. An organ transplant is sometimes the best—or only—option for saving a life.

Registering as an organ and tissue donor

You can register on the National Donate Life Registry by clicking here or through the Health app on your iPhone. You can also register on the NJ State Registry by visiting your local MVC office. 

When you register as an organ and tissue donor through the NJ Sharing Network site or at www.RegisterMe.org, you are registering on the National Donate Life Registry. When you register through your local MVC, you are registering on the NJ state registry. Regardless of which you choose, you will be registered as an organ and tissue donor. Advantages of registering on the National Donate Life Registry are that your donor designation will travel with you across state lines, has no expiration date and does not need to be renewed. If you register on the NJ state registry, you will need to renew your donor designation every time you renew your driver license or state issued ID. Either way, be sure to tell your family about your decision. If the time comes, they won’t be surprised and they can help carry out your wishes. They may be asked to provide information to the transplant team.

The National Donate Life Registry authorizes the recovery of organs, eyes and tissue for transplant. If organs are not suitable for donation at the time of death, the family will have the option to donate to research. 

You may register as a donor if you are under 18. Such a registration is considered intent, not authorization, to donate. If a minor is ever in a position to be an actual donor, the family's permission will be required. Once the minor turns 18, he/she will be contacted and asked to update his/her record. If this step is complete, the registration will be considered full legal authorization. If not, the document of gift will be noted as registered while under 18 years old and as such will be considered intent to donate, which will be shared with the family. 

If you registered on the National Donate Life Registry, you can access your donor record by visiting www.registerme.org and clicking the blue “Edit Registration” button. You will be asked to enter a few key data fields (e.g., name, address, last 4 of SSN) to log in to your donor record and can then update your designation. If you registered through an MVC and wish to change your donor designation, a Change of Status form is available for download here. To change your organ donor status on your driver's license or non-driver ID card, please visit a motor vehicle agency.

That’s an important step, but it’s also important to share your wishes with your family. Most families want to carry out the wishes of their loved one, so please be sure to tell them how you feel.

Any indication of donation is helpful, but registering and letting your family know your decision will ensure your donation wishes are upheld. To register as an organ and tissue donor, click here for the National Donate Life Registry. 

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