How long does the donation process take?

Once a person has met the initial medical criteria to become an organ and tissue donor and consent for donation has been given either through registration or by the donor’s next of kin, the donation process itself can begin.

Each donor case is unique because there are countless medical and logistical factors involved. The entire donation process can happen very quickly or may take a few days. After brain activity has stopped, machines must be used to keep the donor’s heart and lungs functioning artificially in order to keep blood and oxygen flowing to maintain basic organ function. These machines are sometimes called “life support,” but in the case of a donor whose life has ended, the lives being supported are those of the patients who will receive the precious, donated organs.

During this time, specialists from the organ and tissue recovery organizations can provide as much information about the process as the donor’s family desire. Some families want to be very informed, while others wish to stay removed from the clinical details. Because each family is different, the specialists work hard to understand and respect their preferences.

Because cornea and tissue donation don’t require a donor to be on artificial support, these gifts can be recovered even after the donor has been transferred to the Medical Examiner’s office or a funeral home.

 

If you would like to learn more about the entire donation process, please click here for a more in-depth explanation.

How do doctors know if someone is really dead?

Death can occur in one of two ways:  1) when the heart and lungs stop functioning and 2) when the brain stops functioning.

While corneas and tissues can be recovered from those who have passed away under a variety of situations, the majority of organ donors are those who have suffered brain death following a massive trauma or a stroke.  Sometimes, organs can be recovered from a person who suffers cardiac death under a very specific set of circumstances.

Brain death occurs when a person has irreversible, catastrophic brain injury, which has interrupted blood flow to the brain long enough that the brain dies, causing brain activity to stop permanently.

Sometimes, people confuse the terms “brain death” and “coma,” and may even have heard the terms used interchangeably on TV or in the movies. But, brain death is very different from coma. A person cannot recover or “wake up” from brain death.  Brain death is death.

There are several tests that doctors perform to confirm brain death before donation can be considered.   In fact, organ donors are actually given more tests to determine official brain death than are non-donors.

For a limited period of time, a brain dead person can remain on a mechanical ventilator to keep blood and oxygen flowing through the organs so they remain healthy enough to be recovered for transplantation. The donation process must happen quickly before the natural processes of death begin to affect any organs that could be lifesaving.

Sadly, this sometimes feels too fast for grieving families who are still in shock from losing their loved one, or who want more time to accept what has happened.

This is another reason registering is so important.  Registering your choice to donate lifts the burden of decision-making off of the family during what is already a heart-wrenching time.

By registering, you also leave the precious, lifesaving option of donation open, helping to ensure that no medically-viable organ or tissue is ever lost for lack of consent.

Brain scan comparison
Brain scan comparison of uninjured, brain dead and comatose subjects.

 

Should donation be included in my end-of-life documents?

Registering with Donate Life Texas records your decision to be a donor and makes it known to the right people at their right time, automatically and is the best way to ensure your wishes are known and followed.

Because they are often not read in time for organ, eye and tissue donation, including your donor status in medical directives, wills and other end-of-life planning documents isn’t always effective.

A special note about DNRs:  Donation is still an option for those with Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders. In addition to joining the donor registry, individuals are encouraged to modify the DNR language to allow intubation and artificial respiration for the purpose organ, eye and tissue recovery.  This would enable EMS and hospital personnel to provide only the ventilation support needed to evaluate donation options and viability.

Please note:  Registering with Donate Life Texas is not intended to serve as a way to make arrangements for the final disposition of a body.