What is Organ Donation?
Organ donation refers to when a person allows his/her organ(s) to be removed, legally, with their consent while they are alive or with the consent of their next of kin if the donor is deceased. Organs can be donated either by living or deceased donor.
Who are organ donors?
There are two types of donors: living and deceased donors.
Living donor – a healthy individual who is willing to donate an organ. Usually, living donors are over 18 years old and are subjected to a number of health assessments, both mental and physical to determine that the person willing to donate an organ understands the risks and implications that donation can have on his life later. Rules for living organ donation slightly vary from country to country.
Deceased donors – deceased individual who has expressed his/her wish to donate their organs. While a number of people register to become deceased donors, only some of them are suitable. Deceased donor has to be brain dead – the majority of deceased donors are brain aneurism/stroke patients or patients with severe head trauma.
What difference can an organ donor make?
Every organ donation is a gift of life for somebody in need.
Every healthy individual can donate some organs/part of organs – kidney or a part of their liver/lung, as well as tissues, blood and bone marrow. However, most organs are collected from deceased donors.
One deceased donor can save up to eight lives, as there can be up to 8 lifesaving organs donated: 1 heart, 2 lungs, 1 liver, 1 pancreas, 2 kidneys, and intestines.
How are Donors and Patients matched?
Procedure and policies behind donor – patient matching vary from country to country. However, physiological requirements remain the same across borders; factors taken into consideration usually include:
- Blood type – recipient’s and donor’s blood type must be compatible
- Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) – these antigens are proteins that are responsible for differentiating tissues of your body and foreign substances
- Cross-matching antigens – the test that is done right before the transplant: small samples of recipient’s and donor’s blood are mixed, if no reaction occurs, then the transplant can proceed.
In some cases, distance is taken into account as some organs cannot survive outside the body for more than 6 hours. The average time that kidneys can be stored outside the body is 30 hours.
Majority of living donations are done by family members, as there is a higher chance of biological match with the patient. However, due to the advance of immunosuppressant medications, there is no need for donor and recipient to be blood relatives. Lately, there was an increase in a number of altruistic donors and paired donations. You can read more about living donation schemes on the Living Kidney Donor’s Network website.
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