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4 Types of Organ and Tissue Donation December 16, 2022

Through the selfless act of organ and tissue donation, you can give the gift of life and offer hope to the more than 105,000 men, women and children on the national transplant waiting list. In the United States, there’s a dire need for donated organs and tissues. Tissue donation not only saves lives, but it enhances the quality of life for the people who receive them. Every donor can save eight lives and enhance over 75 more. Yet each day, 17 people die waiting for an organ transplant.

When considering organ and tissue donation, start by educating yourself on the following:

Being armed with this information, along with understanding the types of organ and tissue donation, will help you make an informed decision.

Organ and Tissue Donation Types

1. Living Donation

Through a living donation, you can save a life while you’re still alive. As a direct result of the critical shortage of deceased donors, living organ donation and transplantation was developed. Recent statistics show that 5,700 more lives were saved through the kindness of living donors. Relatives, friends and individuals who wish to remain anonymous may serve as living donors. On average, 1 in 4 living donors aren’t biologically related to the recipient.

This kind of donation saves two lives including the recipient, as well as the next person on the deceased organ waiting list. Furthermore, live donor transplant recipients can get the best quality organ much sooner—often times in less than a year.

Here are organs you can donate while you’re alive:

  • One lung
  • One kidney
  • A part of the pancreas
  • A part of the liver
  • A part of the intestine

In addition to organ donation, birth tissue can be donated after the delivery of a living newborn and doesn’t impact your health or the health of your baby. Donated birth tissue is frequently used in reconstructive procedures to promote healing. Similarly, to treat burns and painful wounds.

If you’re healthy and between age 18 and 60, you can donate blood stem cells. The sources of blood stem cells are:

  • Bone marrow: Doctors can remove soft tissue in your bones that produce many blood cells to get stem cells.
  • Cord stem cells: Doctors can collect and store blood in the umbilical cord, which has high levels of blood stem cells, in freezers for a long time.
  • Peripheral blood stem cells: Doctors can collect this in the same way as a blood donation.

 Other types of living donation are platelets and blood. Your body makes platelets and blood, which are replaced repeatedly throughout your life. Accordingly, you can donate blood and platelets more than once.

2. Deceased Donation

Deceased organ donation starts when you make the decision to help people, by donating your organs when you die. Eye, organ and tissue donation are included in a deceased donation. For a person to become an organ donor, the organs must be preserved until the recovery time to ensure viability.

Organs you can donate after you die include:

  • Two kidneys
  • Two lungs
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Intestines

Tissues you can donate after you die include:

  • Cornea
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Veins
  • Bones
  • Skin
  • Heart valves

Deceased donation is a possibility only after:

  • All efforts to save the patient’s life have been depleted
  • Tests confirm the absence of brain or brainstem activity
  • Brain death has been proclaimed

3. Pediatric Donation

There are currently 2,000 children under the age of 18 waiting for a variety of organs. Nearly 25% of them are under 5 years old. Other issues surrounding injuries or diseases also may occur during childhood.

Pediatric transplants differ from other organ donations. Children often respond better to child-sized organs. As such, organ size is critical to a successful transplant.

Following are conditions that may require a pediatric organ transplant:

  • Heart: Congenital heart disease and cardiomyopathy
  • Liver: Metabolic diseases such as diabetes and Wilson’s Disease
  • Lung: Cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension
  • Kidney: Acute kidney failure and chronic kidney disease
  • Intestine or short bowel: Advanced intestinal disease

Teenagers 15–17 years old may register their intent to be an eye, organ and tissue donor. Although, until they’re 18 years old, a parent or legal guardian makes the final donation decision and must authorize it.

4. Vascularized Composite Allografts  

Vascularized Composite Allograft (VCA) is a groundbreaking form of therapy. Although rare, it’s becoming a more widespread medical intervention for patients suffering from disfigurement caused by accidents, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Recent statistics show that there’ve been fewer than 200 VCA organ transplants around the world. The most universally known type of VCAs are for faces and limbs like hands, arms, legs and feet.

VCAs involve the transplantation of multiple structures that may comprise:

  • Bone
  • Muscles
  • Blood vessels
  • Skin
  • Nerves

VCA needs a specific authorization, which is separate from a standard donor registration. Individuals must declare their authorization on their donor registration. Or their legal next-of-kin must authorize the donation, at the time of death.

 Why Consider Organ and Tissue Donation?

There are many reasons to consider organ and tissue donation. In addition to helping others and saving numerous lives, you can fill a critical need. Individuals who are on an organ transplant waiting list usually have end-stage organ failure. Organ donation can save the lives of these individuals and drastically affect their quality of life in a positive way. This year, 15,646 donors led to 31,711 transplants.

Organ Donation and Transplant Association of America (ODTAA) is a non-profit organization that helps save lives by educating people about becoming an organ donor. To raise awareness, ODTAA provides information and facts to individuals who want to donate part of themselves or a financial donation to help another person. Save lives by registering as an organ donor and/or making a financial contribution.