The life-giving donation process begins at the time of death, after all efforts to save a patient’s life have failed.
Federal regulations require hospitals to notify their regional organ procurement organization to evaluate patient deaths or imminent deaths for potential donation. In Illinois and northwest Indiana, hospital staff notify Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network. We review the potential donor’s medical condition and history to determine his or her medical donor eligibility.
If the patient is medically eligible, our coordinators go to the hospital to review the patient chart and meet with the doctors and the patient care team. Our Family Support Services coordinators are carefully trained to work with families experiencing a wide range of emotions after a loved one’s death.
We will meet with family members at the appropriate and most sensitive time to discuss donation as part of what comes next:
- If the patient has registered as a donor: We will review the affidavit of donor registration, explain the donation process, answer questions and provide additional support that the family may need.
- If the patient has not registered as a donor: Under state and federal regulations, families of potential organ donors must be offered the option to donate, receiving full information about their options. Our coordinator, in conjunction with hospital staff, will discuss these options with the family and ask consent for donation.
After reviewing consent, we will ask the family for current medical information about the potential donor. This review of the patient’s medical/social history involves questions much like those asked of a potential blood donor, for example. It helps us determine possible medical problems or social behavior that could put a transplant recipient at risk, and helps us determine which organs and tissues may be transplanted
Meanwhile, our organ recovery coordinator assumes care of the donor. A thorough physical exam is conducted, and the patient’s body is maintained by artificial means and stabilized with fluids and medications. Tests are conducted to determine which organs are suitable for transplant. Medical information about the donor is sent to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) for matching with potential recipients.
Our coordinator receives a list of possible “matches” from UNOS, the agency that maintains the national transplant waiting list. The coordinator calls the transplant center for the patient at the top of the list for each organ. It is up to the patient’s transplant surgeon to accept the organ. If declined, the next patient’s surgeon is contacted. This process continues until all organs are placed with waiting recipients.
Once all organs are placed, our coordinator arranges for an operating room at the hospital and coordinates the arrival of the transplant surgery teams. The donor’s organs are removed in a surgical procedure that is extremely respectful of the nature of the gift that has been given. Most organs are taken directly to the recipients by the surgical recovery team.
The time frame for the donation process will vary from a few hours to, in some cases,
20 or more hours.
Following the recovery process, a funeral can be held, generally without delay.
Before the family leaves the hospital, our coordinator provides a telephone number in case questions arise and a packet of information to review at home. Upon the family’s request, we will call to confirm that the recovery surgery has been completed. Many families also request information about donation to provide at their loved one’s funeral services.
Within a few weeks, we will send a letter to the donor’s family confirming the organs and tissues that were donated, and general information about the organ transplant recipients (excluding names). Our Donor Family Services staff will continue to provide information, programs and services to the family for as long as they wish, including grief resources, counseling referrals and opportunities for communication with other donor families and recipients.