We have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about organ, eye and tissue donation and the answers to help you make a decision based on the facts and not one made out of fear and misunderstanding.
Who is Donor Alliance?
We’re the federally-designated, non-profit organ procurement organization (OPO) and an American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB) accredited tissue bank serving Colorado and most of Wyoming. As a recognized leader in facilitating the donation and recovery of transplantable organs and tissues, our mission is to save lives through organ and tissue donation and transplantation. To achieve this mission, Donor Alliance employs effective family approach and recovery programs in more than 100 hospitals. Donor Alliance also inspires the public to register as organ and tissue donors through community partnerships, public outreach and education campaigns throughout its donation service area.
What is organ and tissue donation?
The process of recovering organs and tissues from a deceased person and transplanting them into others in order to save the lives of those in need. Up to eight lives can be saved through one person’s gift of organ donation and more than seventy-five can be saved and healed through gifts of tissue from that same person. Each year, the lives of approximately 500,000 people in the United States are saved through organ and tissue donation. One single organ and tissue donor can save and heal the lives of more than 75 people.
What types of organs and tissues can be transplanted?
Heart, kidneys, liver, lung, pancreas and small intestine are the organs which can be transplanted; bone, corneas, heart valves, veins, skin, tendons and ligaments are among the tissues.
How many people need donated organs and tissue?
Many wonder about this one of our frequently asked questions. There are currently more than 115,000 people in the U.S. waiting for organ transplants—nearly 2,000 of those are from Colorado and Wyoming. Each year, approximately 8,000 people die waiting for an organ transplant that would have given them a second chance at life with their families. In addition, each year, hundreds of thousands of people benefit from donated tissue that is used for lifesaving and reconstructive purposes.
To learn more about the organ donation process, click here.
Another one of the frequently asked questions is what does it mean to join the Donor Registry. Every individual has the right to decide to sign up to donate their organs and tissues at the time of their death. On October 15, 2001, recovery agencies in Colorado began enforcing a law enacted by the Colorado State Legislature in 1998. In Wyoming recovery agencies began enforcing a law enacted by the Wyoming State Legislature in April 2003 on July 1, 2003. These law established a centralized, confidential online registry for every Coloradan and Wyoming resident that have made the decision to be organ and tissue donors.
Your decision to donate takes priority over your family’s preferences. Please tell your loved ones today about your decision to save lives.
Can I take my name off the registry?
Yes. To remove yourself from the registry, you can either fill out the online form located on the registry web sites, or send in your request to be removed in writing to the Colorado or Wyoming Donor Registry at 200 Spruce Street, Suite 200, Denver, CO 80230. Please be sure to include including your full name, date of birth, mailing address, driver’s license number, email address and signature. Once your decision is received, you will receive a confirmation message via email OR postal mail. Even though you have been removed from the registry, at your time of death your family will still be contacted by a coordinator and asked if they would like to make the decision to donate on your behalf, so please be sure and express your wishes to loved ones.
Does saying “yes” to becoming a donor affect the medical treatment that I receive?
We hear this question from our list of frequently asked questions out in our communities. No. Medical care is not affected in any way by your status as a registered donor. Every attempt is made to save your life. In fact, patients must receive the most aggressive lifesaving care in order to be potential organ donors. If a patient’s heart stops during lifesaving efforts, organs cannot be transplanted. Organ and tissue donation is only considered after a physician has pronounced a person dead and family has been consulted.
What about factors such as age or pre-existing medical conditions?
You are never too old or unhealthy to register to be a donor. This is a great question from our list frequently asked questions! Organs and tissues are generally not considered for donation if the person has died from cancer or an infectious disease; however, certain cancer patients can donate corneas. In the event you are in a position to be a donor, medical specialists will evaluate your medical history to determine your suitability to donate. Organs and tissue are tested for infectious diseases, including hepatitis, AIDS and other viral infections before they are transplanted.
Does a person have to die to become an organ donor?
No, there are a few organs that can be transplanted from a living person to another person. Living people can donate a kidney or part of the liver or lung; although, Donor Alliance only recovers organs from deceased donors.
What steps must I take to become an organ and tissue donor?
Simply register your decision on your state’s donor registry (for Colorado residents, visit www.DonateLifeColorado.org, and for Wyoming residents, visit www.DonateLifeWyoming.org), indicate your desire to be an organ and tissue donor on your driver’s license or other legal document, and most importantly, discuss the decision with your family so they know to honor your wish to give the gift of life after your death.
Is my driver license or ID card enough?
Yes. Individuals can continue to register to be organ and tissue donors at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when acquiring or renewing a driver’s license or state identification card. This information from the DMV is downloaded into the registry every 24 hours. So, if you make your designation at the DMV you have been added to the registry. By signing up with the registry, your desire to donate is stored in a secure, confidential database. Should your death result in the opportunity for you to be a donor, an official record of your donor designation will be readily available and your wishes to donate will be respected.
If I have an advance directive, should I also register, or will my advance directive be enough?
A great one from our frequently asked questions! You should register. Due to the rapid and emotional nature of events surrounding sudden death, families often do not have time to check legal documents prior to being approached about donation. Without enrolling on the registry, your decision may not be expressed; however, since the registry is viewed in all potential donation cases prior to approaching the family, we are able to share proof of registration with family members at the time donation is discussed, and your wishes will be honored.
Who can sign up on the Donate Life Colorado and Wyoming Organ and Tissue Donor Registries?
The Colorado and Wyoming Registries allow people who are at least 18 years of age to register their authorization to donate specific or all organs and tissues upon their death. Children between the ages of 13 and 17 can join the registry; however, until the designated donor is 18 years old, their parents (or legal guardians) will make the final decision about organ and tissue donation at the appropriate time.
Can I register my children?
Due to federal privacy laws prohibiting the collection of personal information for individuals under age 13, the registry is unable to accept registrations for children 12 and under. Until registrants and non-registrants alike are 18 years old, their parents (or legal guardians) will make the final decision about organ and tissue donation at the appropriate time.
Does my registration grant consent for whole body donation?
Registering as an organ and tissue donor does not grant permission for your whole body to be donated to a medical school or other whole body donation program. If whole body donation is to occur and the decedent is on the registry, the decedent will be first a tissue and then research donor. Families often choose whole body donation or research as options to help afford funeral services, as cremation and return of the ashes is free.
Can I specify which organs and tissues I donate?
It’s easy to answer this one from our frequently asked questions. Yes, you may opt out of donating specific organs and/or tissue or donating for medical research while registering online at www.DonateLifeColorado.org or www.DonateLifeWyoming.org. Simply state your wishes under the “Any Additional Comments” section located at the end of the online registration form. In addition, you can specify that your donated tissue must be used for life-saving or reconstructive purposes only; distributed only to non-profit organizations; or distributed only in the United States.
Is it possible to restrict my donation from prisoners or other groups?
Federal law does not allow you to restrict your donation to or from specific classes of individuals. However, Colorado has never recovered organs or tissues from prisoners who have been put to death. For donation purposes, persons must have been out of incarceration for five or more years to be eligible to be organ and tissue donors, and are considered “high risk” donors.
If a family member is in need of an organ at the time of my death, can I specify that he or she is to receive it?
“Directed donation” of an organ to a specific individual is legal, but it must be done at the time of donation (organs may not be directed to a specified group of individuals). Directed donation is best supported by an advance directive or may be granted by next of kin at the time of donation.
How do people in other states sign up? Is there a national registry?
All of the states in the continental U.S. honor individual state registries; however, there is no national registry. All matters concerning organ and tissue donation are under the jurisdiction of each state’s respective laws. Additionally, organs may not be allocated to the registration state. For information on how to become a donor in other states, go to donatelife.net and click on the state in question. Great question from our list of frequently asked questions!
If one has specified in his or her will how long they want to remain on ventilated-support, will this affect the donation process?
Typically, after brain death has been declared and consent gained, a patient remains on ventilated support for a short period of time, due to the fact that the patient is considered clinically deceased, and the process of donation can begin. Brain death is different than a coma. When a patient is in a coma, there is still blood flow allowing the brain to function. When a patient is brain dead, all function to the brain has permanently ceased. The longer a patient is on life support after brain death, the more unstable most organs, such as the heart and lungs, become.
Does donation affect funeral arrangements?
The body is treated with great respect and dignity throughout the process, and the donor’s appearance following donation still allows for an open-casket funeral. Once the organ and/or tissue recovery process is completed, the body is released to the donor’s family. The entire donation process is usually completed within 24 to 36 hours, and the family may then proceed with funeral arrangements.
Is my family or estate charged for donation?
Many people wonder about this one from our list of frequently asked questions. No. There is no cost to the donor’s family for organ and tissue donation. Donor Alliance, a non-profit organization, assumes all costs associated with recovering and processing organs and tissues for transplant once death has been declared and authorization is confirmed through the donor registry, or from the family in lieu of registration; these costs are never passed on to the donor family. Our business model, culture and values are all built on respecting and appreciating the gift of donation. We find this is a comfort to both donor families and recipients. Eventually, these costs are reimbursed by transplant centers, once a transplant is completed, and the center, in turn, will bill private and public insurance plans. Hospital expenses incurred before the donation of organs or tissue in attempt to save the donor’s life and funeral expenses remain the responsibility of the donor’s family.
I think I may need an organ transplant. How do I get added to the list?
The process of joining the UNOS National Organ Transplant Waiting List begins with your physician referring you to a transplant center for evaluation. A committee of doctors, transplant surgeons, and other hospital staff makes the decision as to whether a patient is a suitable candidate, and whether or not to be placed on the waiting list for an organ transplant. This decision is based on the status of the patient’s health, his or her medical and social history, and the expectation of their stability after the transplant takes place.
What is the likelihood a recipient will reject his or her transplanted organ or tissue?
Each person’s immune system reacts differently to transplanted organs, so there is no set formula to determine whether or not an organ will be rejected. However, new medications are continually being developed to reduce the risk of transplant rejection in patients. With these new medications, rejection rates are as low as 10-15 % of patients and one-year transplanted organ survival has improved to 95%. These days, rejection of tissue is uncommon.
Can donor and recipient families meet?
Soon after donation occurs, a donor family will be notified with general information about the recipient(s), including age, gender, occupation and state of residence. The identities of all parties remain confidential through this communication process. Correspondence between donor families and recipients is facilitated by Donor Alliance and transplant centers in a way that ensures donor and recipient confidentiality. If correspondence continues over time, it may be possible for donor families and recipients to communicate directly.
If both parties agree, people can meet each other in person, while others may be more comfortable communicating without direct contact. It is also possible that either party may decline to correspond or meet for various reasons.
How can I be sure my information is kept confidential?
As a state-authorized public service, Donor Alliance adheres to the most up-to-date guidelines to keep all personal information confidential. It is absolutely vital that the organization identifies individual registrants with 100% certainty if they should ever be in a position to be an actual organ or tissue donor. We would never want to confuse a patient who is not registered with someone who is. We assure you that every precaution is in place to protect the information from identity thieves. Of the 40+ state donor registries now in operation, there are no reported problems with unauthorized access to personal information.
What about living donation?
Living donation is another incredible way you can help save the life of someone waiting for an organ transplant. Through living donation, a living person can donate a kidney or part of the liver, lung, intestine or pancreas to another person in need of a transplant.
There are many factors to look at when considering living donation. Things such as blood type and overall health are factors when considering becoming a living donor. Each potential living donor must go through a full medical evaluation that includes lab tests, a physical examination, and a psycho-social examination. The decision about whether to accept the living donor is then made by the health care team at the transplant center.
Donor Alliance does not facilitate living donation. Living donation must be facilitated directly though one of the four transplant centers in our area.
Centura Porter Adventist Hospital
2525 S. Downing St., Suite 380
Denver, CO 80210
Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center
1719 E. 19th Avenue
Denver, CO 80218
Children’s Hospital Colorado
13123 East 16th Avenue
Aurora, CO 80045
Note: Selling human organs for the purpose of transplantation is illegal. Federal law stipulates that no person may be paid and/or receive valuable consideration for donating an organ.
Hopefully, we have answered all of your frequently asked questions, but if you still have questions, there are more resources available to you.
Where can I go to find more information about organ and tissue donation?
To learn more about organ and tissue donation, visit: