The Need

  • Currently there are more than 117,200 people waiting for organs in the U.S.
  • Every 14 minutes another person is added to the national waiting list for organs.
  • One third of the people waiting for organs will die before they receive a transplant.
  • Of the 25,000 people who die of a brain death each year (and could donate organs), only 5,500 donate.

What organs and tissues can be transplanted?
All the vital organs in the body can be transplanted: heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and the small intestine. Tissues include the cornea or eye, bone, skin, cartilage, ligaments, veins and heart valves.

Who can be an organ and/or tissue donor?
Everyone should consider himself or herself a potential organ and tissue donor. Your medical condition at the time of death will determine what organs and tissues can be donated. Organs are recovered from individuals who are determined by a physician to be "brain dead," meaning their brain and brainstem have died. They have usually suffered a severe trauma or blow to the head, such as an aneurysm or a gunshot wound. The individual is in an intensive care unit at a hospital and every measure possible is made to save his or her life. A series of tests are performed by a neurospecialist to determine brain death. Brain death is death—it is not reversible. Organs can only be recovered from individuals who are brain dead, or in some cases who die a cardiac death—meaning that their heart has stopped beating. Organ donors can also donate tissue. The only diseases that completely eliminate you from being an organ or tissue donor are metastatic cancer, HIV or AIDS. Other medical conditions that could affect organ donation are evaluated on a case by case basis.

How are organs and tissues recovered?
Once brain death has been confirmed by medical personnel not association with the organ recovery, the donation process is set into motion. Tissues can be recovered up to 24 hours after death by trained technicians in the tissue recovery suite at ARORA or a hospital operating room. Prostethic devices are put in place of recovered bones to maintain the form of the body. The body is carefully reconstructed and the funeral home chosen by the donor family transports the donor's body to prepare for funeral service, burial or cremation. The recovered tissues are stored in freezers until all quality assurance tests come back verifying that no diseases are present. Once this assurance is received, the tissue is then processed into grafts for distribution to clinicians for life-saving and life-enhancing transplants.
Organ donation is a more difficult process because organs must be matched with individuals waiting on the national waiting list. Once the organs have been matched with a recipient, the organs are surgically removed in a hospital operating room. Surgeons and their assistants recover each organ in a specific order. The surgeons return to the transplant center and transplant the organ into the awaiting recipient. Due to specific time limits, some organs, such as the kidneys, can be properly packaged and sent on a commercial airline to their destination, while other organs must be transported more urgently. For example, the heart can only be outside the body for 4 hours before being transplanted, but kidneys can be outside the body for up to 48 hours before being transplanted. Every available test is performed to ensure the safety of the organs and tissues.

Will my decision to donate interfere with my own health care?
No! Doctors' and hospitals' number one priority is saving lives. The idea that hospitals  will "kill you off"' for your organs and tissues is a vicious rumor and myth that serves only to needlessly frighten people, unfortunately preventing them from registering as donors. Organ donation is never discussed until brain death has been declared. Further, the medical personnel who declare brain death are entirely different from the organ recovery team. Medical personnel must follow strict guidelines, including conducting multiple tests before they can pronounce brain death.

Do I need to mention organ and tissue donation in my will?
No. Because organ and tissue donation are time-sensitive procedures, your will likely be read too late to make donation possible. That is why donor registration is so important.

Who pays for transplants?
The transplant recipient's health insurance or federal funds may cover the cost of the transplant. Ultimately, the transplant recipient is responsible for expenses related to the transplant. The donor's family is never responsible for any expenses related to organ or tissue recovery or transplantation.

Can we be paid for donating organs?
No. Organ donation is a gift. The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 prohibits the buying and selling of human organs.

What do religious groups think about organ and tissue donation?
Most major religions in the U.S. support organ and tissue donation. If you have concerns about your religion's position, talk with a member of the clergy. For more information see our Religious Issues page.

Who will receive my donated organs?
Potential recipients are identified using the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) national computer system. The computer generates a list of patients ranked according to strict medical criteria, urgency of need and time waiting. Donor and recipient identity is confidential, although some basic information is shared.

How do I become a donor?
You can register online at www.donatelifearkansas.org. Or, when you renew or apply for your Arkansas driver's license or state ID card, simply say "yes" when asked if you would like to become an organ donor. Most importantly, even though next-of-kin consent to recover organs is not required in Arkansas, it's helpful to share your decision to register as a donor with family members so they can assist recovery staff with information.