The Organ Donation Process

Have you ever thought of what happens behind the scenes during a surgical operation? Okay, well, I'll be honest: I'm not doctor. Funny thing is I'm just a seventeen year old acting like I know everything. But, really! Yes, it's important to remember the selfless who chose to give the gift of life to someone else. I mean, that is going to be you one day! Furthermore, we also have to thank our other heroes: doctors.


Have you ever wondered how the organ donation process even works? What really goes on during surgery? If you have, keep on reading to learn the basics of the organ donation process (and it can be complicated!).


*NOTE: Cases may vary; the following steps demonstrate the basic process.


#1- Transport

In the case of a medical emergency, the specialized team of EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) come to the rescue and attempt to save the patient's lives. When the EMTs arrive at the Emergency Room, the ER doctors and nurses evaluate the appropriate measures to be taken based on the situation. Life-saving measures include a ventilator, IV fluids, blood replacement and medicine to help the heart keep beating. However, the life-saving process foes not end here.

After a certain amount of time, the patient is transferred to the ICU, where a doctor performs special tests to see how much damage has been done to the brain. If certain results of the test indicate brain damage, then the patient is officially declared dead.


#2-Eligibility for Organ Donation

The organization of medical practitioners who evaluate if the patient is medically suitable for organ donation are called the OPO, or the organ procurement organization.


#3-The patient is hypothetically eligible. What happens next? Authorization.

The doctor proceeds to discuss with the patient's family about their death and cause. After, someone from the OPO talks to the family about organ donation. If the patient was a registered organ donor, then the process is explained to the family and an OPO counselor answers any questions about the organ transplantation process. After all, it is already hard enough losing a loved one, and the organ donation process can become complex.


However, if the patient was not a registered organ donor, then the family has the opportunity to decide whether or not they want the patient to become an organ donor.


#4-Placement

The donor's blood type, height, weight, the hospital zip code and other data are entered into UNOS', or United Network of Organ Sharing, national computer system to begin the organ allocation process. This can match different donors from out of state as well. For instance, Ms. Candice Monroe received a heart transplant from a donor in Indiana; Monroe was in Ohio at the time and was matched via UNOS.


#5-Organ Recovery

The donor is taken to an operating room, where the surgical process begins. Prior to the surgical removal of the organs, each organ is flushed free of blood with a specially prepared ice-cold preservation solution that contains electrolytes and nutrients. Following this, the organs are placed in sterile containers, packaged in wet ice, and transported to the recipient's transplant center.


#6-Funeral

After the organ donation process, the donor is taken to a funeral home. The OPO works closely with the funeral director to honor the donor and donor family's funeral wishes. Keep in mind that an open casket funeral is possible after organ donation.


#7-Follow-up

Following a few weeks after the organ donation, the OPO sends a letter to the donor's family. The letter contains Information about which organs were transplanted. Moreover, the letter does not expose the names of the recipients. However, the recipients may reach out to the donor's family if they wish to. With Ms. Candice Monroe, she decided to reach out to Chuck, her donor dad, to thank him for her second chance at life. They have developed such a beautiful relationship that is deeply cherished by both of them. Most OPOs continue to provide treatment, such as counseling.


If interested about learning more about the communication of donor families and recipients, read about the guidelines established by the OPO and their community here:

https://unos.org/transplant/connecting-donors-and-recipients/




RESOURCES:

“Deceased Organ Donation Process: Unos Donation Processes.” UNOS, 26 Apr. 2022, unos.org/transplant/deceased-donation/.

“Organ Donation.” NewYork-Presbyterian, www.nyp.org/transplant/organ-donation/organ-transplant-process.


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