Becoming an Organ or Tissue Donor

Donate LifeMore than 123,000 Americans are on the transplant waiting list for lifesaving organs, yet according to Donate Life America, only about one-half of the country’s population is registered as an organ donor. Johns Hopkins has been a leader in organ and tissue transplant innovation for decades and opened the Comprehensive Transplant Center in 1996 to provide patients with the best transplant experience possible. Learn more at hopkinsmedicine.org/transplant or call the center at 410-614-5700.

Read some commonly asked questions about organ donation and transplant, and find out ways you can help save a life, including through social media. Also, read through an interview with Johns Hopkins nurse Clint Burns and his lifesaving liver transplant 20 years ago.

 

Do I have to be a particular age, of a certain ethnic background or practice a specific religion to be an organ donor? What if I am not 100 percent healthy?

There are many common myths surrounding organ donations and what type of person qualifies to be an organ donor. Age, religion, ethnicity, finances and health concerns should never prevent someone from considering registering as an organ donor.

Age: No patient is ever too old or too young to give the gift of life. Newborn babies, great-great-great-grandparents and everyone in between may be able to become an organ or tissue donor. The decision to use a patient’s organs and tissue is based on strict medical criteria, not age.

Religion: All major religions support organ and tissue donation, seeing it as the ultimate act of charity. If you have questions about their faith’s views on donation, you can consult with your minister, pastor, rabbi or other religious leader.

Ethnicity: While transplants can and do cross racial and ethnic lines, donors are more likely to match with someone from their own racial or ethnic background due to genetic similarities. According to Donate Life America, nearly 58 percent of patients awaiting lifesaving transplants are minorities. Therefore, people of all ethnicities can—and should—register to be organ donors.

Finances: There is no cost to the donor or family for organ or tissue donation. Celebrity status and wealth are also never factors in determining organ donors and recipients, a decision based strictly on medical criteria to ensure the organ will go to the person who needs it the most.

Health: Even if you have health issues, your medical history will be thoroughly reviewed to determine if you are a suitable donor. Many people who have diabetes or heart disease have been able to donate organs or tissue. According to Donate Life America, a single tissue donor can save or heal up to 50 people, and one deceased organ donor can save eight lives. Additionally, nearly 50,000 patients have their sight restored each year through corneal transplants.

 

What does it mean to be a living organ donor? Can I live without certain organs?

While part of the end-of-life conversation includes deciding whether or not to become an organ donor, it is becoming more common to donate organs or parts of organs while living. A person who does this is called a living organ donor. Kidneys are the most common organs in a living organ donation. Other organs include a lobe of a lung, partial liver, partial pancreas and partial intestine.

There are several advantages to living organ donation:

  • Shorter wait time for a donor to become available
  • Takes place during a scheduled operation, rather than waiting “on call” for an organ to become available
  • Increased success rates; for example: a kidney from a living donor lasts twice as long as one from a deceased donor

In a video interview, Johns Hopkins transplant surgeon Dorry Segev talks about the science behind living with one kidney rather than two: “Living with one kidney, after donating a kidney, provided that someone is healthy and not destined to get any major diseases, is the same as living with two kidneys. In a study involving 90,000 patients, living with one kidney did not put anyone at excess risk of dying prematurely than with two kidneys.” View the full interview here.

 

If I know someone who needs an organ, can I donate mine directly to them?

This is only possible with living donations; organs from deceased donors will be matched with the national registry based on medical need. Living donors can choose to make a directed or nondirected donation.

Directed Donation: This is when a donor and recipient know each other, though they may not be related and may not be an exact match. The Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center developed a method called plasmapheresis, which allows for “nonmatching” donors to provide kidneys to a recipient. Another option is to participate in a kidney swap, where a donor/recipient pair trade kidneys with another donor/recipient pair.

Nondirected Donation: Nondirected donors are also called altruistic donors and often choose to donate based on selfless motives to an unknown recipient.

Learn more about living organ donation at hopkinsmedicine.org/transplant/living_donors.

 

How can we make people more aware about the need to register as organ donors?

Every 10 minutes, another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list, and each day, 18 people die from lack of transplant. In the United States, 90 percent of the population supports donation, but only about 30 percent know how to become a donor.

In 2012, Andrew Cameron, surgical director of liver transplantation at Johns Hopkins, teamed up with Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, to change these numbers using social media.

A Facebook change in May 2012 allowed users to share their organ donor status with friends and use convenient links to make the status official through a state’s department of motor vehicles website, resulting in a twenty-onefold increase in organ donors in a single day. Read more about this success.

To change your personal Facebook status and show that you’re an organ donor, follow these easy steps:

  • On your personal Facebook page, click “Life Event” in the area where you’d post a photo, a status update, etc.
  • Choose “Health & Wellness,” and then choose “Organ Donor.”
  • Update your information and help spread the word!

 

I’m interested in registering as an organ donor. Do I have to go to a department of motor vehicles office to complete the process?

No, you can register as an organ donor in your state right now by visiting organdonor.gov/becomingdonor/stateregistries. As of April 5, 2015, more than 2.5 million Maryland residents were registered organ donors.

 

What are some recent achievements in organ donation and transplant at Johns Hopkins?

A number of milestones and groundbreaking discoveries have been achieved at Johns Hopkins since the first kidney transplant was performed in Maryland at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1968. Here are a few highlights:

  • Out of 48,000 corneal transplants performed each year in the U.S., about 10 percent of them end up being rejected. A recent study showed that tiny nanoparticles applied at the time of surgery can slowly release medicine and help reduce the risk of rejection after eye surgery.
  • A bill signed into law in November 2013 now allows HIV-infected people to donate their organs after death, offering hope to thousands of HIV patients on transplant waiting lists. The bill was based on Johns Hopkins research that showed a significant decrease in the amount of waiting time for both HIV-infected and nonHIV-infected patients on the transplant list.
  • In December 2012, Johns Hopkins physicians performed the first bilateral arm transplant at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and used an innovative treatment to prevent rejection of the new limbs.
  • The use of half-match bone marrow transplants—also called haploidentical—was effective in eliminating sickle cell disease in selected patients during a clinical trial. Read the press release or watch a video about a patient's success story thanks to this groundbreaking discovery.
  • In August 2012, Johns Hopkins established a facial transplant service to help transform the lives of people with severe facial injuries.

 

 

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