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Organ and Tissue Donation

Transplantation saves lives, and you can help! Discuss your decision with your family and register with the New York State Donate Life Registry or at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

It is important to talk to your family members about organ and tissue donation because, even if you've signed something, your family may be asked to give consent before donation can occur.

Frequently Asked Questions about Organ Donation

Organ and tissue donation and transplantation saves lives, but only if you become a donor. All you need to do is say “yes” by enrolling in the New York State Donate Life Registry (www.donatelifenys.net) or at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), filling out a donor card or signing the back of your driver’s license. You should talk with your family about your wish to become a donor.

Q:  Is there a need for organ and tissue donors?
A:
Yes! Today in the United States there are more than 110,000 men, women and children currently waiting for an organ transplant. In New York state, more than 9,000 people are waiting. In fact, every 11 minutes a new name is added to the national waiting list. Each day, 18 people die waiting for a transplant. Thousands of other people need a cornea transplant to restore their vision or a tissue (bone) graft to reduce pain and/or improve their mobility.

Q: Who can become a donor?
A:
Anyone can become a donor. There are no age limitations. People of all ages — newborn babies to senior citizens — should consider themselves potential donors. The physical and medical condition of the donor at the time of death will determine what organs and tissue can be donated.

Q: What organs and tissues can I donate?
A:
Organs that may be donated for transplantation include kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and small bowel. Tissues that may be donated include eyes, heart valves, bone, skin, veins and tendons. One donor can save and enhance the lives of many individuals.

Q: How do the organs and tissues benefit others?
A:
Organ transplants such as kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and small bowel restore and save lives. Tissue is needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments lost to trauma, cancer and other diseases in order to reduce pain and improve strength, mobility and independence. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal, and often mean the difference between life and death. Heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage.

Q: Are organ transplants successful?
A:
Studies show high survival rates among transplant recipients. The success rate for kidney transplants is in the range of 90 to 95 percent. Many recipients have lived for 10 to 20 years or more. Success rates continue to improve with advances in technology and anti-rejection therapy.

Q: Will my medical or nursing care be changed because of my decision to be a donor?
A:
No. Organ and tissue donation only becomes an option after all possible life-saving measures have failed to save a patient and death has been declared. The quality of your medical and nursing care will not change, regardless of your decision. The doctors involved in saving your life are entirely different from the medical team involved in recovering organs and tissues.

Q: What will happen to my donated organs and tissues?
A:
Organ allocation works through a carefully managed matching process. Organs are allocated based on medical information such as blood type, body size, severity of illness, length of time on the waiting list, and tissue type matching through a national computer network operated by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). It is illegal to distribute organs based on non-medical information such as wealth, citizenship or celebrity status. Buying and selling organs is against the law.

Q: Does it cost anything to donate organs and tissues?
A:
No, the donor’s family does not pay for the cost of organ donation. All costs related to the donation will be paid by the recovery program. Donation costs nothing to the donor family or his/her estate.

Q: Will organ and tissue donation disfigure my body?
A:
No. Organs and tissues are recovered using standard surgical techniques. Great care is taken to respect the body and to care for the donated organs and tissues. It is still possible to have an open casket funeral.

Q: Does my religion approve of donation?
A:
All of the major religions support organ and tissue donation and consider it a gift — an act of charity. If you have questions, contact your religious advisor.

Q: Will the identity of the recipients be revealed to the donor family?
A:
No. The identity of both the donor and recipient are kept confidential. Basic information is provided to both recipients and donor families following the donation. If they wish to communicate, it is done anonymously through the recovery program and transplant center. Some recipients and donor families do opt to meet, but both parties must agree to do so.

Q:How do I discuss organ and tissue donation with my family?
A:
Many people are uncomfortable talking about death. Explain to your loved ones how your decision to donate at the time of your death will offer hope to others whose lives may be saved or enhanced through transplantation. You can also explain to them that you want them to know your wishes now, so that they will not be burdened with making the decision for you later.

Q: How do I become a donor?
A:
The first, and most important, step is to tell your family and friends of your wish to become a donor upon your death. Then, after discussing your wishes with your family, you may wish to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry (www.donatelifenys.net), enroll at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), fill out a donor card or sign the back of your driver’s license. If you have not previously made your wishes known, your next of kin will be asked to make the decision on your behalf upon your death.

Information provided by Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.

Links for additional donation information:
Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network www.donorrecovery.org
Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation www.MTF.org
Finger Lakes Eye & Tissue Bank www.rehpb.org