Organ, Eye, and Tissue Donation
The Gift of Life
You can be someone's hero. As you read this, more than 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant. That's more people than all of the seats at the KeyBank Center, Highmark Stadium, and Sahlen's Field combined. More than 10% of those waiting are our fellow New Yorkers.
Thousands more are waiting for life enhancing tissue and eye donations. There exists a tremendous need for New Yorkers to designate themselves as organ, eye, and tissue donors by enrolling in the New York State Donate Life Registry. By doing so, you are giving legal consent for the recovery of your organs, eyes, and tissues for the purposes of transplantation and research at the time of your death.
Join The Donate Life Registry
Make your loved ones aware of your healthcare decisions and wishes to be an organ donor. This is the most important step. If a person has not registered, their family will be consulted about the decision to donate.
What Can Be Donated?
Organ donation is a way to transplant living organs and tissue from a recently deceased person to someone living to save or extend their life. Donation only occurs after a physician who is not affiliated with donation declares a person dead. Prior to this, doctors and medical professionals will do everything in their power to save your life.
When someone says "yes" to organ, eye, and tissue donation they can save up to 100 lives (or more).
One organ donor can save up to eight lives with their donation. The organs that can be donated include the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and small intestine.
One eye donor can give the gift of sight to two people. When someone needs a corneal transplant, a person’s cornea is replaced with corneal tissue from an eye donor.
One tissue donor can provide healing for up to 75 lives. The tissues that can be donated include such as skin, bone, tendons, veins, and heart valves.
The Donation Process
ConnectLife coordinates the recovery of organs, tissues and corneas for transplant. Non-living donation only happens once someone has died and can only be done with consent by you prior to your passing or by your family after your passing.
A potential donor has most likely been admitted to a hospital because of illness or accident which has resulted in head trauma, brain aneurysm, or stroke. Healthcare professionals work hard to save the patient's life while maintaining the patient on mechanical devices.
Brain Death Testing
When healthcare professionals have exhausted all possible lifesaving efforts and the patient is not responding, a physician will perform a series of tests to determine if brain death has occurred. This is usually done by a neurosurgeon or neurologist in compliance with accepted medical practice and state law. Patients who are brain dead have no brain activity and cannot breathe on their own. Brain death is irreversible and is not a coma. Brain death is death.
In compliance with federal regulations, a hospital notifies its local organ procurement organization, ConnectLife, of every death or impending death.
A hospital gives ConnectLife information about the deceased to confirm his or her potential to be a donor. If the patient is a potential candidate for donation, a representative from ConnectLife immediately travels to the hospital.
The ConnectLife representative will search New York’s donor registry to see if the deceased had enrolled as a donor. If so, that will serve as legal authorization. If the deceased had not registered and there was no other legal authorization for donation, ConnectLife will seek authorization from the individual of highest decision-making priority. When authorization is obtained, medical evaluation will continue, including obtaining the deceased's complete medical and social history from the family.
If the deceased's evaluation does not rule out donation, ConnectLife will contact the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) to begin the search for matching recipients. A computer program matches donor organs with recipients based on blood type, tissue type, height, and weight, length of time the patient has been waiting, the severity of the patient's illness and the distance between the donor's and the recipient's hospitals. The list does not reference race, gender, income, or social status.
Maintaining The Donor
While the matching process is happening, the donor is maintained on artificial life support and the condition of each organ is carefully monitored by the hospital medical staff and the Clinical Donation Coordinator from ConnectLife.
Recovering & Transporting Organs
The ConnectLife representative arranges the arrival and departure times of the transplant surgical teams. After the surgical team arrives, the donor is taken to the operating room where organs and tissues are recovered in a sterile environment, just like in any surgery. All incisions are surgically closed and should not interfere with an open-casket funeral.
The transplant operation takes place after the transport team arrives at the recipient hospital with the new organ. Typically, the transplant recipient is already at the hospital and may be in the operating room awaiting the arrival of the lifesaving organ. Surgical teams work around the clock as needed to transplant the new organs into the waiting recipients.
The families of all donors and potential donors are provided with support through the ConnectLife Family Services department. As part of our ongoing commitment to families we are available to help find support services or programs in your area, obtain information related to the outcome of your loved one’s organ, tissue and or eye donation, and assist with correspondence to recipients if you wish. Outcome information is usually available within 6-12 months after recovery.
To contact our Family Services department please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Myths & Misconceptions
Despite continuing efforts at public education, misconception, and inaccuracies about donation persist. It's a tragedy if even one person decides against donation because they don't know the truth. The following are common myths along with the facts:
Myth: If I agree to donate my organs, the hospital staff won't work as hard to save my life.
FACT: When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life — not somebody else's. You'll be seen by a doctor whose specialty most closely matches your particular emergency.
Myth: An open-casket funeral isn't an option for people who have donated organs or tissues.
Fact: Organ and tissue donation doesn't interfere with having an open-casket funeral. The donor's body is clothed for burial, so there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation. For bone donation, a rod is inserted where bone is removed. With skin donation, a very thin layer of skin similar to a sunburn peel is taken from the donor's back. Because the donor is clothed and lying on his or her back in the casket, no one can see any difference.
Myth: My family will be charged if I donate my organs.
Fact: The organ donor's family is never charged for donating. The family is charged for the cost of all final efforts to save your life, and those costs are sometimes misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation. Costs for organ removal go to the transplant recipient.
Myth: I'm not in the best of health. Nobody would want my organs or tissues.
Fact: Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating organs. The decision to use an organ is based on strict medical criteria. It may turn out that certain organs are not suitable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. Don't disqualify yourself prematurely. Only medical professionals at the time of your death can determine whether your organs are suitable for transplantation.
Myth: Maybe I won't really be dead when they sign my death certificate.
Fact: Although it's a popular topic in the tabloids, in reality, people don't start to wiggle their toes after they're declared dead. In fact, people who have agreed to organ donation are given more tests (at no charge to their families) to determine that they are truly dead than are those who have not agreed to organ donation.
Myth: I'm too old to donate. Nobody would want my organs.
Fact: There's no defined cutoff age for donating organs. The decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age. Don't disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.
Myth: I'd like to donate one of my kidneys now, but I wouldn't be allowed to do that unless one of my family members is in need.
Fact: Whether it's a distant family member, friend or complete stranger you want to help, you can donate a kidney through certain transplant centers. If you decide to become a living donor, you will undergo extensive questioning to ensure that you are aware of the risks and that your decision to donate isn't based on financial gain. You will also undergo testing to determine if your kidneys are in good shape and whether you can live a healthy life with just one kidney.
Myth: I can sell my organs on the black market.
Fact: NO! There is no black market for organs. Stories about black market are urban legends. The National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507) prohibits the sale of human organs. Violators are subject to fines and imprisonment. Due to the complex system of transplantation, piracy is practically impossible.
Myth: Organ donation is against my religion.
Fact: Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions. This includes Roman Catholicism, Islam, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant faiths. If you're unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith's position on donation, ask a member of your clergy.
Myth: Rich and famous people go to the top of the list when they need a donor organ.
Fact: The rich and famous aren't given priority when it comes to allocating organs. It may seem that way because of the amount of publicity generated when celebrities receive a transplant, but they are treated no differently from anyone else. The reality is that celebrity and financial status are not considered in organ allocation. The National Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507) ensures that organ allocation is based on medical criteria, time spent on the waiting list, and geographic location. Also, patients are not indicated on the waiting list by name.
Myth: I'm under age 18. I'm too young to make this decision.
Fact: A new law now allows 16- and 17-year-olds in New York State to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors. Prior to this legislation, the minimum age required for enrollment was eighteen. Now, 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to join the NYS Donate Life Registry when visiting the DMV to obtain a learner’s permit or driver’s license or any other means allowable by the NYS Department of Health. If someone under the age of 18 is considered as a potential donor the law states parents or legal guardians will make the final determination on whether donation proceeds. Upon reaching the age of eighteen, the enrollment will be regarded as consent to donation.